It is not surprising that the research at the Redstone Arsenal, the US Army, have to work twice as hard to find alternative energy sources. Military services are currently highly dependent on oil and gas, but availability and transportation of these is difficult, expensive, and not always possible. And when this is coupled with pollution and emissions, it is pretty easy to get an idea to why the researchers focus on renewables.
The latest technology that comes hot out of their oven is a new type of solar panels. Unlike the conventional ones, which can absorb light only in the narrow wavelength range associated with single crystal silicon, the Army’s panels can also capture infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths, boosting enormously energy production.
The secret is hidden in the addition of thin layers of silver and gold between the semiconductor layers of the solar panels. What these do is to widen greatly the band gap for energy generation, reflecting longer wavelengths of light into electricity, when conventional panels get damaged by these rays. But this is not all. The panels can also produce energy at any angle at which light is hitting the surface, eliminating the need of complicated and pricey sun-tracking systems.
Now, the researchers claim that the technology is much cheaper than what is currently around- I guess they do not refer to manufacturing, but rather weighing of the long term benefits and energy production. Although they do not explicitly state how much would a single panel cost, I am a bit skeptical to believe that anything containing additional gold and silver could turn out cheaper. But again, I might be wrong here.
The research is still at its very early stage, but the technology is very promising and, according to the function chief of Optical Sciences division- Wayne Davenport, definitely worth investing further. According to him, the high quality research that comes out of their laboratory will undoubtedly lead to many more innovations and great projects like this one.
Image (c) US Army