Scientists design solar cell that captures nearly all energy of solar spectrum

A George Washington University researcher helped design and construct a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum.

The new design, which converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, has the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world.

The approach is different from the solar panels commonly seen on rooftops or in fields. The new device uses concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that use lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, micro-scale solar cells. Because of their small size -- less than one millimeter square -- solar cells that utilize more sophisticated materials can be developed cost effectively.

The study, "GaSb-based Solar Cells for Full Solar Spectrum Energy Harvesting," was published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

The stacked cell acts almost like a sieve for sunlight, with the specialized materials in each layer absorbing the energy of a specific set of wavelengths, said Matthew Lumb, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. By the time the light is funneled through the stack, just under half of the available energy has been converted into electricity. By comparison, the most common solar cell today converts only a quarter of the available energy into electricity.

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