Scientists use 'funnel-vision' to pioneer cheap and efficient solar energy

July 26, 2018, University of Exeter
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists have developed a pioneering new technique that could unlock new methods of making solar energy more efficient.

A team of experts from the University of Exeter has discovered an innovative way for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power.

The new technique relies on 'funnelling' the sun's energy more efficiently directly into power cells, such as solar panels or batteries.

Crucially, this ground-breaking method has the potential to harvest three times the energy compared with traditional systems. The researchers believe their breakthrough could result in , no bigger than a book, producing enough energy to power a family-sized house.

The results are published in Nature Communications.

Adolfo De Sanctis, lead author of the paper and from the University of Exeter said: "The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container, as we all know it is much more efficient if we use a funnel. However, such charge funnels cannot be realised with conventional semiconductors and only the recent discovery of has enabled this discovery."

In the research, the team of physics experts developed how to 'funnel' electrical charge onto a chip. Using the atomically thin semiconductor hafnium disulphide (HfS2), which is oxidized with a high-intensity UV laser, the team were able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of the chip, where they can be more easily extracted.

Credit: University of Exeter

While current solar cells are able to convert into electricity around 20 per cent of the energy received from the Sun, the has the potential to convert around 60 per cent of it by funnelling the more efficiently.

"Strain-engineered inverse charge-funnelling in layered semiconductors" is published in Nature Communications.

Explore further: Printable solar cells a step closer with new design principles

More information: Adolfo De Sanctis et al. Strain-engineered inverse charge-funnelling in layered semiconductors, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04099-7

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5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2018
I would like to know where the comment "could result in solar panels, no bigger than a book, producing enough energy to power a family-sized house" came from.

This is not only misleading, but dishonest. If the new solar panels have 3 times the efficiency of the best available current models, then then an installation could be be 33% as large as a current installation and produce the same amount of energy. If the average house uses quan 15, 18 sq foot panels, the new panels could do the same job with quan 5, 18 square foot panels. 5 X 18 = 90 sq. ft.

Also, often missing from such stories is the fact that - as powerful as sunlight is, there is a finite amount of energy available per square foot (or meter). People get the mistaken impression that, in the future, solar cells will become so efficient that we will be able to power our homes with tiny solar panels. Too many people distrust science and say "they are changing their minds all the time". Stories like this don't help.
not rated yet Jul 27, 2018
@Exlowan: The comment does not come from the paper (which is open access, and well-written).

The article is from the University of Exeter, so it looks like the university's PR department made the silly comment.

(And your analysis is spot on - even in a concentrator PV system, while the module might be small, the concentrator would be 1/3 the size of the current panels).
not rated yet Aug 12, 2018
What does that lab result mean? In a digestible format? Vapor deposition can apply a fine-tuned electrical nanolayer to PV's, which efficiently drains the photon induced charge? How does the atomic physics work?

Perhaps using a book of many PV layers, they can focus a parabolic reflector because the electron drain layer makes it run cooler?

A new field of science that can change the world has been theorized in a lab test! Exeter is great as well.

Perovskite studies started on the same basis and in 10-20 years perovskite may be in shops. Color LCD was invented in 1975 and became common in 2000. All for 60% PV's.

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