The market for solar power is continuously evolving as research and development advances. Here are some recent discoveries and innovations which may lead to higher efficiency and lower cost solar power.

Butterfly Inspired Solar Cells

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Butterflies have natural scales that act like solar collectors, which scientists in China and Japan are using as a template for improved light harvesting on Gratzel cells.  Gratzel cells are dye-sensitized solar cells named after its inventor, Michael Gratzel.  Tests have shown that the butterfly inspired collector absorbs more light than conventional dye-sensitized cells.   And, the manufacturing process is easier and faster than traditional methods.   Researchers predict that this process can be used to produce other nanoelectric, magnetic, and solar devices.  Read the journal article here.

Antireflective Coating

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One of the biggest hurdles in solar power is the ability for solar cells to capture sunlight, especially as the sun moves throughout the day.   Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new antireflective coating that absorbs sunlight from nearly all angles, improving solar panels’ ability to capture sunlight.   This coating makes it possible for solar panels to absorb sunlight regardless of the sun’s position.  When a silicon solar cell was treated with their anti-reflective coating, sunlight absorbance increased from 67.4% to 96.21%, demonstrating “near perfect” absorbance.  And, this gain was consistent across the entire light spectrum, including UV, visible, and Infrared light.

Plastic Technology

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The bulk of new generation solar cells are made of silicon, which have demonstrated great potential in increasing solar efficiency.  However, its potential to fuel the world’s energy needs is restricted by its limited supply.  Scientists at the University of Alberta and the National Research Council’s National Institute for Nanotechnology are looking at plastic solar cells as an efficient alternative to silicon.  After two years of research, they have seen 30% improvement in working models.  The team anticipates that in five to seven years, inexpensive and mass-produced plastic solar cells made by ink jet-like printers can be made available to everyone.  After all, there isn’t just one right answer to solar energy.