New ‘super-absorbing’ solar panel may greatly lower manufacturing costs

5 Mar 2014

A new ‘super-absorbing’ ultra-thin solar panel design could significantly lower production costs of the material, according to North Carolina State University (NCSU).

According to the release on their findings, the team led by senior author Dr Linyao Cao believe the design could decrease the thickness of the semiconductor materials used in thin-film solar cells by more than one order of magnitude without compromising the capability of solar light absorption.

As of now, solar energy efficiency is estimated to be 12-15pc of the energy that is received by the solar panels.

However, the NCSU team claims that with these newer designs of solar panels, their panels could absorb 90pc of available solar energy using only a 10 nanometres thick layer of amorphous silicon.

The design of the light-absorbing semiconductor resembles a Lego block which came about after the team found that maximising solar absorption requires a design in which the light-trapping efficiency for solar light is equal to the intrinsic absorption efficiency of the semiconductor materials.

“We developed a new model to do this work, because we felt that existing models were not able to find the upper limit for the solar absorption of real semiconductor materials,” Cao said, “and if this works the way we think it will, it would fundamentally solve light-absorption efficiency problems for thin film solar cells.”

The team members are now looking to industry partners to take up their design with the hope of creating a mass market for the potentially industry-changing material.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic