Scientists set a new standard for the efficiency of ultra-thin solar panels.

The University of Surrey-led research has successfully enhanced the amount of energy absorbed by wafer-thin solar panels by 25%. Their solar panels, which are only one micrometre thick (1m), convert light more efficiently than others this thin and pave the path for a more widespread use of pure, green energy.

Solar panels

The team describes how they harnessed the qualities of sunlight to construct a disordered honeycomb layer that sits on top of a silicon wafer in a study published in the American Chemical Society's Photonics magazine. Their method is mirrored in nature, where butterfly wings and bird eyes are designed similarly. The revolutionary honeycomb structure absorbs light from any angle and holds it inside the solar cell, allowing for increased energy generation.

Dr Marian Florescu, director of the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at the University of Surrey, stated, "One of the difficulties associated with working with silicon is that roughly a third of light bounces off without being absorbed and the energy captured. A textured layer across the silicon helps address this, as does our disordered yet hyperuniform honeycomb architecture."

The University of Surrey and Imperial College London researchers collaborated with experimental collaborators at AMOLF in Amsterdam to design, simulate, and fabricate the new ultra-thin photovoltaic.

They reached absorption rates of 26.3 mA/cm2 in the laboratory, a 25% improvement above the previous record of 19.72 mA/cm2 set in 2017. They achieved a 21 percent efficiency but believe that additional advancements will result in much greater efficiencies than many commercially available photovoltaics.

Dr Florescu went on, "The potential for ultra-thin photovoltaics is huge. For example, due to their small weight, they will be particularly helpful in space and may enable the development of new extraterrestrial enterprises. We hope that, because they consume significantly less silicon, there will be cost savings on Earth as well, as well as the possibility to expand the benefits of the Internet of Things and to develop zero-energy buildings powered locally."

Apart from solar energy generation, the discoveries may aid other businesses that rely heavily on light management and surface engineering, such as photo-electrochemistry, solid-state light emission, and photodetectors.

The team's next steps will be to look for commercial partners and to develop manufacturing procedures.


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