A team of researchers from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama have developed a new photovoltaic solar cell. It converts light energy into electric energy, and is both smaller and cheaper than the options that are currently available.

Since current solar panels use silicon construction, they tend not to utilize the maximum power from the sun. That's because silicon's band gap – the wavelength of light that is absorbed and converted into electricity – is extremely narrow compared to the sun's spectrum beaming down. This means the panels are also susceptible to wear, heat damage and stress caused by the ultraviolet and infrared light shining down.

This new "breakthrough" solar panel created by the Army has silver and gold between the semiconductor layers for a thickness of a few hundred nanometers that allows direct control of energy absorption for energy conversion — making the solar cells work more efficiently.

This cutting-edge design has resulted in smaller photovoltaic solar cells that are 1,000 times thinner. They are also more cost effective, and due to the cell's geometry, the sunlight absorption rate is not affected by the angle between the sun and the cell. Because the solar panels can absorb and convert the same amount of energy no matter the angle, there is no need for expensive sun-tracking stands.

"Low-cost, compact, flexible and efficient solar cells are destined to impact all sorts of Department of Defense applications, as lightweight solar panels will eventually power all kinds of equipment, particularly in remote, inaccessible areas," said Dr. Michael Scalora, solar cell co-creator and research physicist at the U.S. Army AMRDEC. "The key to the development of efficient, compact solar cells are advances in nanotechnology, nano-fabrication techniques and thin-film production."

The Army has received a patent for their new solar cells, but the technology is still in its early stages with plans for future research.

Via: US Army

Photo: Thomas Kohler | Flickr

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