While we’ve seen solar cell efficiency squeak past 40% in labs this year, we’re still stuck commercially with panels that at most convert about 20% of what hits them into energy. Then there’s the whole “darkness” thing that cuts into production for part of the day.
Researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory have potentially solved both issues by turning to another hot field: nanotechnology. From the article,
With this new technology, millions of extremely small twists of metal are molded into banks of “microantennas”, which can be placed on almost any material, including plastic sheets. These spiral shaped “microantennas” are about 1/25 the width of a human hair. They are so small that they resonate from the interaction with the sun’s infrared rays. This resonation can be translated into energy. During the day, the Earth soaks up a lot of this infrared energy, which is then radiated out at night — enabling these microantennas to collect power even after the sun has set.
With this new tech, researchers believe they can hit an efficiency rating of about 80%! Better yet — they will be about as cheap as “inexpensive carpet”, since the process to create the collectors does not rely upon traditional high-grade silicon.
Of course, there is a catch. A big one. While the collectors are able to capture solar energy, they still cannot transmit it into usable energy. Apparently, the nanoantennas generate a current that has a frequency which oscillates ten thousand billion times a second — way too much for the average appliance to handle. The good news is, they’re working on it. I think it’s phenomenal it’s even possible in the first place.