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New Solar Cells Harness Infrared Light

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An atomic-force microscope image of a layer of single-walled carbon nanotubes deposited on a silicon surface, as the first step in manufacturing the new type of solar cell developed by an MIT team. Individual nanotubes can be seen in the image. Photo: Rishabh Jain et al

Current solar technology can only harness about sixty percent of the solar energy reaching the Earth.

An atomic-force microscope image of a layer of single-walled carbon nanotubes deposited on a silicon surface, as the first step in manufacturing the new type of solar cell developed by an MIT team. Individual nanotubes can be seen in the image. Photo: Rishabh Jain et al

The other forty percent reaching the Earth lies in the near-infrared region of the light spectrum.  That energy currently cannot be harnessed by conventional silicon based solar cells.  But a new kind of all-carbon solar cell developed by MIT researchers could tap into that unused energy, opening up the possibility of combination solar cells, incorporating both traditional silicon-based cells and the new all-carbon cells that could make use of almost the entire range of sunlight’s energy.   The carbon-based cell is most effective at capturing sunlight in the near-infrared region. Because the material is transparent to visible light, such cells could be overlaid on conventional solar cells, creating a tandem device that could harness most of the energy of sunlight.  The current research at MIT is close to making a very high efficiency near-infrared solar cell, but according to the team working on this system, there is still more research and fine tuning that needs to be accomplished.  MIT has opened their research to other scientists in an effort to accelerate the development of this new sustainable energy paradigm.  Solar research has indeed become a more exciting option for finding a sustainable energy solution to weeing us off of fossil fuels.

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