Research: New way to funnel solar energy "100 times more concentrated than PV"

"Instead of having your whole roof be a photovoltaic cell, you could have little spots that were tiny PV cells, with antennas that would drive photons into them," says Michael Strano, associate professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the research team.

Strano and his students describe their new carbon nanotube antenna, or "solar funnel," in the September 12 online edition of the journal, Nature Materials. Lead authors of the paper are postdoctoral associate Jae-Hee Han and graduate student Geraldine Paulus.

It has been said that their new antennas might also be useful for any other application that requires light to be concentrated, such as night vision goggles or telescopes.

Solar panels generate electricity by converting photons (packets of light energy) into an electric current. Strano’s nanotube antenna reportedly boosts the number of photons that can be captured and transforms the light into energy that can be funneled into a solar cell.

The team has not yet built a PV device using the antenna, but the researchers have said they plan to. In such a device, the antenna would reportedly concentrate photons before the PV cell converts them to an electrical current. This could be done by constructing the antenna around a core of semiconducting material, said the researchers.

Strano’s team is now said to be working on ways to minimize the energy lost as excitons flow through the fiber, and on ways to generate more than one exciton per photon. The nanotube bundles described in the Nature Materials paper lose about 13 percent of the energy they absorb, but the team is working on new antennas that would lose only one percent.

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