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Engineers Develop Efficient Nanotech Solar Energy Film

Solar flare (Temari 09/Flickr)An engineering team from the universities of Missouri and Colorado, Idaho National Lab, and MicroContinuum Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts are developing a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light, for manufacture in the next few years. Their lab findings have appeared in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering.

Current photovoltaic (PV) technologies capture about 20 percent of the power in solar energy. Missouri chemical engineer Patrick Pinhero and his team have developed an alternative technology that features nanoscale antennas on thin flexible sheets that can harvest more of the solar rays and convert them into usable electricity. (One nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.)

The nano-antenna film captures a wider spectrum of solar rays than PV, combining infared and heat with the visible sunlight. The technology then uses electronic circuitry to extract the electricity from the film.

MicroContinuum provides the expertise to convert the lab results into products that can be mass produced for consumer and industrial markets. The company specializes in what it calls “roll-to-roll” processes for manufacturing electronic circuitry or devices on flexible substrates, such as foil or plastic.

The researchers expect to have a product within five years that complements conventional PV solar panels. Because the process results in a flexible film rather than fixed panels, Pinhero believes it can be made into roof shingles, or be adapted for powering vehicles.

Read more: Report: Nanotech Can Cut Green Energy Costs

Photo: Temari 09/Flickr

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