Solar3D Ups The Cell Efficiency Ante

Solar3D caused a bit of a stir in solar photovoltaic circles earlier this year when it said it was developing a breakthrough silicon solar cell technology that, according to preliminary tests, was capable of achieving an efficiency of 25.47 percent. Now the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based startup is going a step further, touting “a design modification that enables its super-efficient solar cell to collect sunlight from a wider angle” than conventional solar cells.

“This major breakthrough combined with our record-setting high efficiency design can result in a solar cell that can produce 200 percent of the power of conventional silicon solar cells,” Jim Nelson, president and CEO of Solar3D, said in a statement.

solar 3d

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Solar 3D said it filed a patent application for the new design element, which it said collects sunlight over a wide range of angles.

“Conventional solar cells become dramatically less efficient if the sun is not shining within a narrow range of incident angles,” Nelson said. “Sunlight that hits the cell outside of this range will be reflected off, and the reduced solar energy causes the cell’s internal efficiency to drop. Because of a unique wide-angle design, our solar cell can maintain its high efficiency over a wider range of incident angles. It can capture more light in the morning and evening hours, as well as in the winter months when the sun is not directly overhead.”

Once collected, Solar3D said, its technology works like a funnel trapping sunlight, giving the photovoltaic material more time to convert it into electricity. Instead of passing through the photovoltaic material just once, the photons “bounce around” until nearly all of them are converted into electricity. Further efficiency improvements are achieved by running the electrical contacts under the light collectors, rather than across the top of the cell, like most photovoltaic cells. This prevents the wires from shading the cells, blocking the absorption of sunlight.

Solar3D said in January it was working on completing a prototype of its cell and finding a partner in the semiconductor industry to fabricate and help commercialize the product.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.