Evolution Guides Development Of Next-Gen Solar Panels

Written By: Thatcher Michelsen January 31, 2013 0
Northwestern University is working on a new generation of solar cells that are far more efficient than any previous models.
Northwestern University is working on a new generation of solar cells that are far more efficient than any previous models.

Northwestern University is reportedly developing the next generation of solar panels using a novel approach: Allowing natural selection to determine which geometric patterns are the right size for energy-capturing cells.

Utilizing a mathematical algorithm based on the idea of natural selection – in this case, for the most efficient shape and width – the researchers were able to find the correct size to capture the energy with.

The result was an efficiency rate three times higher than traditional photovoltaic (PV) cells that were used as a control in the experiment. Because they were using thin-cell organic solar cells, which could one day replace the types currently used in solar arrays, the study is a significant development for the renewable energy industry.

“We wanted to determine the geometry for the scattering layer that would give us optimal performance,” Cheng Sun, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern, said in a press release. “But with so many possibilities, it’s difficult to know where to start, so we looked to laws of natural selection to guide us.”

The design works by filtering light through a “scattering layer” that, according to Northwestern, is just 100 nanometers thick. This top layer spreads the light evenly to be captured by the cells, a process that reduces inefficiency as much as possible. The charge is then transferred to the “active layer,” which then powers an electrical generator. 

Treehugger, a green industry news source, reported that the tests yielded a greater amount of power than any traditional solar semiconductor created so far. While further testing is needed to prove the commercial applicability of this project, the signs are certainly promising for green energy advocates. For more updates on renewables, eco-friendly living and other important topics, keep reading the LifeIsGreen.com blog. 

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