New solar tech is over the rainbow

Ohio State University chemists have created a new material that could revolutionise photovoltaic solar panels.

Today’s solar cell materials are sensitive to only a limited range of frequencies, so they can only capture a small fraction of the energy contained in sunligh.

The new hybrid material – an electrically conductive plastic combined with metals including molybdenum and titanium – is the first that is sensitive to all the colours in the rainbow, allowing it to absorb all the energy contained in visible light at once.

Not only is the hybrid material more sensitive than normal solar panels, it also generates much more charge (more free electrons) than the researchers were expecting.

“This long-lived excited state should allow us to better manipulate charge separation,” said Professor Malcom Chisholm, chair of the Ohio State’s Chemistry Department.

To design the as-yet-unnamed hybrid material, Chisholm explored different molecular configurations on a supercomputer before synthesizing molecules of the new material in a liquid solution.

However, he warns that it could be years before high-power hybrid solar panels find their way onto our roofs. Until then, we’re stuck with today’s traditional silicon panels – and hopefully the more efficient thin-film technologies coming soon.


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