MIT Research Could Dramatically Improve Solar Cell Efficiency
An artistís rendering of the extraction of electrons from a solar cell during a photo incident. Researchers at MIT have proven that this occurrence can knock loose more than one electron -- achieving a singlet exciton fission process -- breaking the previous limit and paving the way to improve the efficiency of solar cells beyond the current 34 percent theoretical limit. (Source: MIT/Christine Daniloff)
OK, Elizabeth. The big concern of mine is all of those people who have no clue as to all that must happen to make some scientific discovery into a worthwhile product. They tend to blame engineers for not being able to produce instant miracles on demand. If I were that good, I would certainly be very rich indeed. But I am not.
Thanks for clarifying that, William. I completely see what you're saying and it's true, a lot of the research happening will be in the lab for a long time before it ever makes it out there commercially, if it ever does at all! So your point is completely valid and I hope you don't think I was discounting it. I usually try to clarify this in stories I write so if I wasn't clear in this one, my apologies!
Elizabeth, my point was intended to be that a lot of press release type announcements tend to deliver the impression that whatever has been discovered will be available on store shelves in a few weeks, and that this may lead to a whole lot of unreasonable conclusions by many of those who are able to speak very well but posess less technical insight than the averag stone wall or gate post. (pardon the antique analogy.) The overall effect on the technically illiterate general populace is a bit negative, in that as a matter of course, the great expectations are underfulfilled. That in turn leaves room for all kinds of false product representations.
Instead of being manufactured on rigid silicon wafers like a traditional solar cell, thin film solar cells can be manufactured on a flexible substrate with a reel to reel process similar to offset printing. Thin film solar cells can even be constructed into products such as roofing materials, and are much cheaper to manufacture than traditional solar cells. But, their effeciency is much less compared to traditional solar cells, as is their lifespan.
There are advances being made, but the whole solar marketplace is in a funk due to Chinese production dumping, and the ending of various government subsidies.
These are valuable points, William K. As with most research, the path from the lab to commercialization can be longer than expected and filled with trial and error. Perhaps the authors felt pressure to publish, as you suggest, before they had this technology fully baked. But even if it's not the end all be all and only serves to help improve other efforts to boost efficiency of solar cells, it certainly is a good thing.
This is an interesting and potentially valuable discovery, that is certain. Proving that some well thought theoretical limit is not a true limit is a worthwhile achievement, no question about that.
But it has been pointed out that pentacine is not really a very stable compound, and that would add quite a bit to the challenge of commercialization. So the path from laboratory discovery to a reproducable experiment will take some real effort and a few breakthroughs, and achieving a commercially viable realization may require some more fundamental advances.
One thing that I would wonder about, the increase of 1.09 electrons per 1 photon, equates to 109 per hundred photons, which is just barely beyond the level of uncertainty in some kinds of measurements. So, as in other physics experiments, it would be quite appropriate now for more details to be published so that others could duplicate the experiment. After all, that is the standard process for validating some new claim, which is for others to be able to obtain similar results based on the published data. Sometimes, when results seem to be far better than reality would predict, it is found that those results are not so very correct. I realize the immense pressure to publish these findings prior to others publishing them, so I wish the authors good luck.