Washington, Nov 4 : Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the US have developed a new antireflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels at all angles, which would make scientists realize the dream of high-efficiency, cost-effective solar power.
The nanoengineered coating solves two major hurdles facing solar energy.
It boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle.
"To get maximum efficiency when converting solar power into electricity, you want a solar panel that can absorb nearly every single photon of light, regardless of the sun's position in the sky," said Shawn-Yu Lin, professor of physics at Rensselaer and a member of the university's Future Chips Constellation, who led the research project.
"Our new antireflective coating makes this possible," he added.
An untreated silicon solar cell only absorbs 67.4 percent of sunlight shone upon it - meaning that nearly one-third of that sunlight is reflected away and thus unharvestable.
From an economic and efficiency perspective, this unharvested light is wasted potential and a major barrier hampering the proliferation and widespread adoption of solar power.
After a silicon surface was treated with Lin's new nanoengineered reflective coating, however, the material absorbed 96.21 percent of sunlight shone upon it - meaning that only 3.79 percent of the sunlight was reflected and unharvested.
This huge gain in absorption was consistent across the entire spectrum of sunlight, from UV to visible light and infrared, and moves solar power a significant step forward toward economic viability.
Lin's new coating also successfully tackles the tricky challenge of angles.
Lin's discovery could antiquate automated solar arrays, as his antireflective coating absorbs sunlight evenly and equally from all angles.
This means that a stationary solar panel treated with the coating would absorb 96.21 percent of sunlight no matter the position of the sun in the sky.
So, along with significantly better absorption of sunlight, Lin's discovery could also enable a new generation of stationary, more cost-efficient solar arrays.
"At the beginning of the project, we asked 'would it be possible to create a single antireflective structure that can work from all angles?' Then we attacked the problem from a fundamental perspective, tested and fine-tuned our theory, and created a working device," Lin said.