U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Federal Energy Management Program
New Technologies Promise to Revolutionize the Solar Power Industry
May 25, 2005
While the conventional silicon solar cell industry is facing supply
constraints, a number of new solar cell technologies aim to produce
solar cells from new materials, at lower cost, with higher
efficiencies, and in new forms. With a wide diversity of approaches,
the photovoltaic solar cell industry remains dynamic, and the next
breakthrough appears to be just around the next corner.
One of the most promising new technologies is quantum dots, particles
of semiconductor material smaller than 10 billionths of a meter. At
such small scales, quantum effects cause the dots to respond
differently to light depending on their size, an effect allowing the
dots to be "tuned" to different wavelengths of light. A new study from
DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Naval
Research Laboratory suggests that quantum dots could theoretically
yield a solar cell with twice the efficiency of today's solar cells.
Quantum dots can produce as many as three electrons from a single
photon of light, so they can theoretically convert as much as
65 percent of the sun's energy into electricity, according to the
researchers. The findings were published in a recent issue of the
American Chemical Society's Nano Letters journal. See the
NREL press release.
Quantum dots aren't just theory: Evident Technologies, already
considered a leader in quantum dot development, recently teamed with
Konarka Technologies, Inc. in an effort to combine quantum dots with
Konarka's flexible plastic solar cells. Meanwhile, Konarka is also
incorporating its so-called "power plastic" into tents and portable
chargers for the U.S. Army, even coloring it with a camouflage
pattern, while also working on power-generating fibers and plastics.
And for those who prefer foil to plastic, DayStar Technologies, Inc.
is developing its TerraFoil, a flexible metallic solar cell made by
depositing thin films of semiconductor material onto foil. See the
March 23rd and May 4th press releases from Konarka, as well as the DayStar Technologies press release.