Upon acknowledging that at present, the improvement of solar cell’s efficiency has already reached its maximum with only gradient increases if any, the two physicists from the University of Warwick, Coventry took the works of Einstein and Tesla as inspiration and came up with a new design of solar panels – double-glazing.
The proposed solar panel design of Dr. Gavin Bell and Dr. Yorck Ramachers is fundamentally similar with a double-glazed window, which is composed of two glass layers and the space between them is filled with an inert gas.
Whereas existing solar panels use vacuum as the filler between two layers, the new design uses an inert gas as the filler, acting as an additional insulation. Replacing the vacuum with gas could make manufacturing cost lower.
How does the double-glazed solar panel work? When the sunlight strikes it, electrons are ejected from the photocathode, which is the inner layer applied with a special coating that releases those electrons during a radiation. These free electrons then transcend through the inert gas, argon in this case, and finally collected by the transparent outer layer that conducts electricity.
“It’s satisfying to find a new twist on ideas dating back to the start of the 20th century, and as a materials physicist it is fascinating to be looking for materials which would operate in an environment so different to standard photocathodes,” Dr. Bell states.
The scientists are hopeful that they have just initiated a new path for improving solar panels, especially by materials engineers. “Our device is radically different from standard photovoltaics, and can even be adapted for other green technologies such as turning heat directly into electricity, so we hope this work will inspire new advances.”
Although the physicists consider a thin diamond film is a very good candidate, they have not yet established the photocathode’s optimum composition. They also recommend that the photocathode’s transparency is made variable to make it applicable to solar windows.
“We think the materials challenge is really critical here so we wanted to encourage the materials science community to get creative,” Dr. Bell says.