Science 3 min read

Researchers Accidentally Make Solar Energy Breakthrough

Solar energy just received a massive boost thanks to an accidental discovery by a team of UK researchers | Image By petrmalinak | Shutterstock

Solar energy just received a massive boost thanks to an accidental discovery by a team of UK researchers | Image By petrmalinak | Shutterstock

After making a serendipitous discovery, scientists develop a new technique to “funnel” photovoltaic energy directly into solar panels and batteries for maximum efficiency.

Funnels, these cone-shaped simple tools, have been in use for a long time to pour liquids or fine substances into containers.

Now, imagine a funneling system to channel solar energy without much spillage. The efficiency of photovoltaic energy generation would hit the roof.

If conventional funnels of the kitchen and science labs are usually made of glass, plastic or other rigid materials, solar funnels require 2D superconducting materials.

That’s what a team of materials scientists from the University of Exeter (UK) has been working on, and they owe their novel technique to an accidental discovery.

Read More: Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastics Discovered by Accident

Photovoltaic Funnels for Three-Fold Power Conversion Efficiency

Researchers are experimenting with novel materials, such as perovskite, to optimize the efficiency of solar panels.

Other scientists are looking into innovative techniques to improve the solar energy conversion efficiency of current systems.

Solar energy wasn’t even the research focus of materials scientists at University Exeter when they made their discovery.

Serendipity found its way into the lab of Adolfo De Sanctis, a physicist at the University of Exeter’s Quantum Systems and Nanomaterials group.

While investigating the properties of atomically thin superconducting materials, De Sanctis realized the significance of their ability to “funnel” electronic charges.

He got the idea of engineering superconducting funnels to “pour” solar power directly into containers, in this case, power cells, to avoid as much “overspilling” as possible.

Here’s De Sanctis and Saverio Russo, his team leader, speaking of the serendipitous finding that led to the breakthrough technique in this video.

This technique enables researchers to reduce the size of photovoltaic cells, solar panels, and batteries while augmenting their efficiency.

The charge funnel the team devised, based on ultra-thin hafnium disulfide (HfS2), has the potential of increasing the efficiency of solar power conversion by at least three-fold.

Conventional photovoltaic cells waste around 80 percent of the solar energy they receive, systems based on this new funneling technique waste only about 40 percent.

“While current solar cells are able to convert into electricity around 20 percent of the energy received from the Sun, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60 percent of it by funneling the energy more efficiently.”

Imagine a small solar panel the size of a book providing all your household power needs. That’s what researchers think their technique will enable them to achieve.

Full details of the study are published in the journal Nature Communications.

What if we combine the potential of novel materials, like perovskite, with that of the present funneling technique, will solar cells reach their utmost efficiency?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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