Harnessing Light’s Full Spectrum: Scientists Claim Solar Power Breakthrough

Chemists at Ohio State University say they have produced a next-generation material that not only absorbs the full spectrum of sunlight, but also make makes the electrons generated more easy to capture.

The hybrid material — a combination of electrically conductive plastic and metals like molybdenum and titanium — is the first of its kind to capture the full solar spectrum, according to Malcolm Chisholm, one of the authors of the paper describing the research, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Solar panels in use today capture only a small fraction of the energy contained in sunlight.

The material is years from being made into a commercial product, but is another example of how innovations in the field of solar energy could make vastly more of the sun’s energy available for human use. Recent action by Congress to extend industry tax incentives should keep companies investing in new technology research and development. And according to the Department of Energy, “Under the ongoing global financial crisis, a lack of available credit is causing projects to be delayed or canceled, but the clean energy sector is continuing to attract substantial amounts of investment capital.”

If coupled with new battery technology, solar energy technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we generate electricity. Millions of homes could be outfitted with their own power sources, and they could store enough electricity — if efficient enough — to eliminate the need for power plants in the residential sector.

That’s been the promise of solar energy for a long time. Breakthroughs like this one announced by Ohio State brings the vision that much closer to reality.

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