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William Yuan, a 12 year-old, Invents New Type of 3D Solar Cells


This is great news. William Yuan, a 12 year-old from Beaverton, Oregon, has made an innovation in the 3D solar cells production that could provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than cutting-edge 3D solar cells. It may sound weird, but, at his age, he studied nanotechnology.

“Solar it seems underused, and there are only a few problems with it”, said William, encouraged by his science teacher from Meadow Park Middle School. “Regular solar cells are only 2D and only allow light interaction once,” he also said.

The 3D solar cell William Yuan invented can absorb both visible and UV light, a fact that scientists struggle to accomplish by complicated technologies. At first, he couldn’t believe his calculations: “This solar cell can’t be generating this much electricity, it can’t be absorbing this much extra light,” he recalled thinking.

While college students have come up with unusual solar cars and the state of Oregon recently unveiled solar panels to power highway lights, William Yuan is thinking global: “It’ll have a really positive impact on society and the environment,” he said.

His next step is to get a manufacturer and market it.

Yuan is flying out to Washington D.C. on Monday to accept a $25,000 scholarship for his research. He earned the Davidson Fellow award, which is for those 18 and under.

It remains to be seen how this kid’s work evolves and how his invention can be put from paper to reality. We’ll report about this as soon as other news appear.

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  1. I think the 500% increase is being incorrectly used. If we think of something that is 100% then it’s the same as the item being compared. A 500% increase is 5 times the efficiency. The numbers I’ve seen in the commercial solar cell industry are still 12 to 14% efficient. I also generally say the number of 1000 watts per meter as the amount of radiant energy available but that might be at sea level or just visible light. Anyway, if this cell can take us from 12% to 60% efficient that would mean a 1 meter panel would have an output of 600 watts and if anybody has held onto a patent that would do that since 2005 without mass producing them they should lose the patent or the cost of building the cells makes the patent worthless.

  2. Seems a bit too good to be true… Wiki will delete the entry.( see discussions-tab for the why) Andaccording to : http://blog.wired.com/geekdad/2008/09/12-year-old-rev.html :

    From Kirk Englehardt, Director of Communication at Georgia Tech Research Institute:

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting story. There is, however, a clarification that needs to be added.

    The 3D solar cell was invented several years ago at the Georgia Tech Research Institute by our team of world-class scientists and engineers.

    The Georgia Tech Research Institute (www.gtri.gatech.edu) has been making 3D solar cell prototypes of this design since 2004. You can read about the work in our April 2007 news release online. Our work has patents pending in the US and abroad. We have also published our research widely in an number of highly regarded research journals including the Journal of Applied Physics, Journal of Materials and Carbon.

    The 3D Solar Cell has the potential to be breakthrough in the solar industry. The global and exclusive license to the 3D Solar Cell intellectual property is held by IP2BIZ in Atlanta. The license is currently for sale to any firm that can further develop, manufacture and bring it to market.

    It is wonderful to see a student taking a real interest in science and math. We are also happy to hear of William’s interest in 3D solar cells. We encourage him to contact the Georgia Tech Research Institute so he may be connected with our lead researcher (Dr. Jud Ready), who would love for him to visit our laboratories to see how we create our photovoltaic cells. Who knows – maybe William can contribute to our groundbreaking work.

    For additional information about this work simply Google “3D Solar Cell”

  3. Hi Dave,

    Here’s a quote from the Davidson Institute For Talent Development, which gave him the scholarship:

    “In his project, ‘A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light,’ William invented a novel solar panel that enables light absorption from visible to ultraviolet light. He designed carbon nanotubes to overcome the barriers of electron movement, doubling the light-electricity conversion efficiency. William also developed a model for solar towers and a computer program to simulate and optimize the tower parameters. His optimized design provides 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than the cutting-edge, three dimensional solar cell.”

    Now,my opinion: 500 times more light absorption doesn’t really mean over 100% efficiency, or 500 times efficiency. The light quantity is measured in Lux, and efficiency in %, it’s relative. They only say his cells are more powerful/cm2. If I’m wrong, please correct me. I may be, we’re all humans. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure how to interpret this:
    “could provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells”

    A good, fresh silicon solar cell can provide 15% conversion efficiency, relating output power to insolation. How do you achieve 75 times 100% collection?

    Great concept, especially using UV as well as visible light, but those numbers are hard to grasp.


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