Most often, precious metals like gold and silver are used in solar cell efficiency. Now, an international research team has found that aluminum may be the better option. They demonstrated that a nanoscale LEGO-style setup of aluminum studs can improve solar cell efficiency by up to 22 percent.
Aluminum is already cheap and abundant, and if this becomes commercial, that could drive the cost of solar power down even more.
The new research, published in the journal Nature, shows the idea behind these LEGO studs. The LEGO studs force light to bend and that enables layers of energy-absorbing material to catch more solar energy. This reduces the amount of absorbing material needed, which helps to further lower the cost of production. The reason gold and silver do not excel as well is because these precious metal absorb light into themselves. Aluminum, however, bends and scatters light and passes light along to the solar cell.
It seems the precious metals have been getting a lot of attention, but now aluminum is slowly coming up too. This is the first example of aluminum in a solar cell, but there are other uses for aluminum in other solar modules too. There is a new hybrid solar thermal power plant in Florida that uses aluminum framing for curved mirrors, an aluminum alloy that could make solar modules lighter, and a solar system using aluminum instead of glass panels. There are many uses for aluminum out there, and it is pushing the solar energy realm forward.