Even as solar power begins to outpace fossil fuel the average conversion efficiency still hovers between 11-22% of incoming light. Rice university scientists are looking to increase that by 60-70 percentile.
The device utilizes a method of heat containment called molecular storage to capture thermal photons that would otherwise irradiate from the solar panel as wasted energy (entropy). Those photons are then “squeezed” in to a more narrow bandwidth and subsequently emitted as light that can be converted in to electricity.
Their design is based on a hyperbolic thermal emitter composed of single-wall carbon nanotubes that capture any excess heat. A very similar but slightly different method was used by a University of Houston team to create a hybrid solar device that combines molecular energy storage with latent heat storage using a norbornadiene-quadricyclane material.
“Instead of going from heat directly to electricity, we go from heat to light to electricity.”
It most cases you would expect two steps to be more efficient then three but apparently that is not the case if you can squeeze all of the wasted heat in to a narrow spectrum to then be emitted as light and converted in to electricity.
With this new method the team predicts that they will eventually be able to reach 80% efficiency. In addition to this they can make the effort to transition easier by equipping the emitters to standard a solar cell as a proof of concept. By doing this they should be able to boost the efficiency from the current maximum of 22%.
Scientific journal published in ACS Photonics.