Creating cheap and efficient solar energy with ‘funnel-vision’

NTR acquires 38.4MW in UK solar assets
Credit: Filip Fuxa

Scientists have developed a pioneering new technique that, they say, could unlock new methods of making solar energy more efficient.

A team of experts from the University of Exeter in England has discovered an innovative way for generating photovoltaic energy – or ways in which to convert light into power.

The new technique relies on ‘funnelling’ the sun’s energy more efficiently directly into power cells, such as solar panels or batteries.

Crucially, this ground-breaking method has the potential to harvest three times the energy compared with traditional systems.

The researchers believe their breakthrough could result in solar panels, no bigger than a book, producing enough energy to power a family-sized house.

“The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container, as we all know it is much more efficient if we use a funnel,” said Adolfo De Sanctis, lead author of the paper and from the University of Exeter.

“However, such charge funnels cannot be realised with conventional semiconductors and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled this discovery.”

In the research, published in Nature Communications, the team of physics experts developed how to ‘funnel’ electrical charge onto a chip.

Using the atomically thin semiconductor hafnium disulphide (HfS2), which is oxidized with a high-intensity UV laser, the team were able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of the chip, where they can be more easily extracted.

While current solar cells can convert into electricity around 20% of the energy received from the Sun, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60% of it by funnelling the energy more efficiently.