Environment

New world record set for converting sunlight to electricity

New world record set for conve...
Dr. Keevers with the record-breaking cell
Dr. Keevers with the record-breaking cell
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Dr. Keevers with the record-breaking cell
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Dr. Keevers with the record-breaking cell

An Australian team has set a new record for squeezing as much electricity as possible out of direct, unfocused sunlight via a new solar cell configuration. Engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) achieved 34.5 percent sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency, a new mark that also comes closer than ever to the theoretical limits of such a system.

UNSW's Dr. Mark Keevers and Professor Martin Green set the record with a 28 centimeter-square (4.3 sq in), four-junction mini-module embedded in a prism. This new configuration allows the sun's rays to be split into four bands so that a higher amount of energy can be extracted from each beam.

The same team reached an even higher level of efficiency a few years back using mirrored concentrators that were able to convert 40 percent of incoming sunlight to electricity. However, this new record is the highest level achieved without the use of concentrators.

"What's remarkable is that this level of efficiency had not been expected for many years," said Green, citing a German study that set a goal of 35 percent efficiency to be reached by 2050.

The team does not expect that its record-breaking cell configuration will find its way on to home or office rooftops anytime soon, as they are more costly to manufacture. The group is working to reduce the complexity to make them cheaper to produce and sees a future for them on solar towers that make use of concentrating mirrors.

Meanwhile, efficiency gains are also being made in the development of organic solar cells that are cheaper and more flexible. There's still a long way to go though, as the most recent record for organic photovoltaics set in February was 13.2 percent efficiency.

Source: University of New South Wales

12 comments
DennisRayWingo
Sorry but Dr. Nevell Marzwell of NASA JPL created a 63.5% efficient non concentrating "rainbow" cell in the year 2000.
CzechsterMarek
It is just a matter of time when we will be able to shut down fossil fuel plants and breath a little easier.
eurekajavue
I believe there are other CPV technologies that have broken the 50% efficiency mark some time ago, outside of capturing heat. I.e. PV energy, ignoring heat energy harvesting.
Pea Gea
yea..thx for rubbing it in....I tried to patent this idea almost 15 years ago....too late ...filed already in 97 ish...I hope they keep bringing the cost down....tired of the world burning dinosaurs.
Augure
Solar Cell news, like battery research is BS. Many of the pseudo "breakthrough" we hear about are numerous repeats of the same breakthrough made 10 years before and 20 years before that. When you understand how the world economic system, based at it's root on the exploitation of resources, you understand that we'll see these pseudo advance in research for a long time until a war settles it all.
Augure
@DennisRayWingo not quite, Dr. N. Marzwell worked on space based solar panel for satellites and stations. Conditions in space being of course way different from Earth since there's no atmosphere.
Daishi
@DennisRayWingo The highest recorded/proven record I know of even using concentrator cells is 46%. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory keeps a running record of these that can be seen here: http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg I'm going to go ahead and file your "63.5% efficient non concentrating" claim under "yeah right, prove it". If NASA JPL did in fact do this the NREL has no record of it but you do? Let me guess, agents in black helicopters swept in and stole the research to protect the illuminati coal conspiracy?
JoelF
This is not a world record "achieved without the use of concentrators." The record multi-junction solar cell, measured WITHOUT the use of concentrators, was developed by Soitec and CEA-Leti, France, converting 46 % of the solar light into electrical energy. Surprisingly, concentrators actually reduce efficiency due to optical losses when light is reflected or refracted. There's a lot of confusion between conversion efficiency and cost efficiency. In an attempt to increase that latter (at the expense of the former) concentrators are used, with mixed results.
christopher
Cool tech. Earths population will *quadruple* in our lifetime. Good luck if you think any of this fun solar stuff will make a noticeable difference! You would have to convert 70+ million people over to 100% solar every year, just to break even - good luck with the remaining 7.x+ billion rest of us.
sidmehta
@christopher you don't understand population growth. At all. The population is expected to peak and then fall slightly.