MIT Research Could Dramatically Improve Solar Cell Efficiency
An artists 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)
Elizabeth, well this is something. I think the headline on the article overstates the potential. It looks like a 9% increase in electron production. This is good, but not the quite as amazing as I thought when I read the title.
Agreed. Many titles here use hyperbole. Words like dramatically or "best...ever" can create high expectations. The researchers are very excited about it. As I always say, I'd like to see more analysis on the site.
This is moving in the right direction. Let's see where it goes.
Thanks for covering this, Elizabeth. Sounds like an important step forward for solar power. I'm not clear how the increase from 25 to 30 percent efficiency qualifies as "huge," but if efficiency could be pushed even further, beyond 30 percent as the article mentions, that's significant.
My guess is that the big difference between 25 and 30 percent will be the cost? Right now the threshold of pain for panel efficiency is about 15%. Yes, you can get a 25% panel, but the cost begins to rise sharply. Maybe the new material will allow for a cost-effective 30% panel.
Thanks for the the informative article Elizabeth. I think it is a huge discovery and a big advancement. And it can further lead to more research in this area, because the results from this experiment are very positive. But still the change in percentage from 25% to around 30% efficiency is not that huge to cause a big difference.
Electricity produced from solar energy is still not comparable to that produced from other resources like hydropower and batteries etc. For example, one cannot run high load house appliances like air conditioner, referigerator etc from solar cells. So still there is a long way to go. Nonetheless, a great acheivement for future research.
While I'm no Physicist or Chemist, I'm having a hard time understanding 1.09 electrons per photon.
Putting that aside, it was 1983 when I wrote my Thesis for my Bachelor's degree on the topic of Photovoltaic cell manufacturing. At the time, the exchange elements being used were Boron and Silicone, and the energy efficiency yield was generally accepted to be at about 10%.
So, today, 30 years later, its now 30%, and MIT considers this a breakthrough. Seems like an average efficiency improvement of about 1% per year. ( * sigh * ) It's a long, slow road, but I guess it's still progress.
Agree, Lou, perhaps the headline should have been changed during editing before the story was posted. But I think the idea is this potentially could set a precedent for the future development of solar cells in a way that's very different from what's happening now, so in some ways I guess the case could be made for a "dramatic" improvement. Point taken, though.
Pentacene, this compound, which is a purple powder, slowly degrades upon exposure to air and light. This is greath ideea to improve overall solar cells effciency but is just a research result. I hope it will find a way (somehow) to production or will trigger additional ideeas in this direction....
Indeed, a.saji, with all the research in this area there should be improvements fast. And hopefully one day solar will be seamlessly integrated into more traditional power grids for even more widespread impact.
This is one area of research that I believe is eventually going to pay off significantly in terms of conserving natural energy resources.The efficiency gains may not be huge for now, but it's a step in the right direction. Ultimately, it's bringing us closer to an eco-friendly environment.
MIT is now looking at incorporating graphene into the mix, which would dramatically improve electron loss, making them more efficient. They would also be able to grab power from more of the sun's spectrum besides infrared.
"MIT is now looking at incorporating graphene into the mix, which would dramatically improve electron loss, making them more efficient. They would also be able to grab power from more of the sun's spectrum besides infrared."
Cabe, that means efficiency can be increased. that's a great news.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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