Researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, together with Suntech Power Holdings announced that embedding gold and silver nanoparticles into thin-film solar cells has managed to improve the efficiency of solar panels by 8.1%. They plan a 10% improvement by mid 2012 and strive for “solar cells that are twice as efficient to run at half the cost of those currently available” by 2017, the date set for starting commercial mass-production.
The basis for this technology resides in the team’s discovery of the “broadband plasmonic effect.” Baohua Jia, PhD and Senior Research Fellow at Swinburne states: “What we have found is that nanoparticles that have an uneven surface scatter light even further into a broadband wavelength range. This leads to greater absorption, and therefore improves the cell’s overall efficiency.”
Thin-film technology is a cheap alternative to crystalline silicon cells. However, they are less efficient due to the reduced thickness of their silicon layer, thus turning the new light-trapping technology into an area of extreme importance. Nucleated gold and silver nanoparticles are highly reflective and increase the wavelength of the absorbed light, converting photons into electrons at a rate higher than that of existing thin-film cells.
Swinburne Professor Min Gu, Director of the Victoria-Suntech Advanced Solar Facility (VSASF) hopes that this broadband nanoplasmonic technology will transform the global perception on electric utilities. “One of the main potential applications of the technology will be to cover conventional glass, enabling buildings and skyscrapers to be powered entirely by sunlight.”
With such new perspectives, all we need is bigger windows.