Collaborative research at four global labs has yielded prototype solar panel designs that could operate up to 22 percent more efficiently by covering their surface with aluminum studs that bend and trap light inside the absorbing layer.
"The success of our technology, in combination with modern anti-reflection coatings, will take us a long way down the path towards highly efficient and thin solar cells that could be available at a competitive price," according to lead author Nicholas Hylton of the physics department at Imperial College London, the lead research university in this study.
The research team attached rows of aluminum cylinders 100 nm across to the top of the solar panel, where they interact with passing light, causing individual light rays to change course.
It turns out more energy is extracted from the light as the rays become effectively trapped inside the solar panel and travel for longer distances through its absorbing layer.
Past attempts using silver and gold studs, which strongly interact with light, reduced the efficiency as they absorb some of the light before it enters the solar panel.
"The key to understanding these new results is in the way the internal structures of these metals interact with light. Gold and silver both have a strong effect on passing light rays, which can penetrate into the tiny studs and be absorbed, whereas aluminum has a different interaction and merely bends and scatters light as it travels past them into the solar cells," said Hylton.
The researchers claim the technology could lead to flexible solar panels that could be applied to any flat or curved surface powering appliances and laptops because aluminum is cheaper and far more abundant than silver and gold.
A detailed paper explaining the research work on aluminum nanoparticles used in plasmonic solar cells is published by N P Hylton and others in Nature Scientific Reports.
Scientists at Imperial College London led the collaborative research work with partners from the University of Tokyo, IMEC and Soochow University in China. The European Commission and private research provided the funds for the research.
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