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New Solar Technology Now Under Development at UConn Could Be Far More Efficient

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February 06, 2013

New Solar Technology Now Under Development at UConn Could Be Far More Efficient

By Ed Silverstein
TMCnet Contributor


There’s new technology under development at the University of Connecticut that may soon overcome some of the drawbacks found with forms of solar energy which are now in use.

UConn engineering professor Brian Willis has developed a new fabrication technique that is far more efficient than silicon solar panels, currently used throughout the United States. It could lead to viable commercial applications.

“This technology is still in the basic research phase, but has generated a lot of excitement because it is a new concept in solar energy – not an improvement on an existing technology,” Willis said in an e-mail to TMCnet. “For that reason, there are hopes that it can overcome inherent limitations of conventional solar power.”

“We expect that this technology, once perfected, may improve the sales potential of solar power by using a different physical principle that overcomes inherent limitations of conventional solar technology,” he added in the e-mail.

Current silicon panels collect at the most some 20 percent of solar radiation, according to the university. In addition, more mechanisms are needed to transform the energy into usable electricity.

But the new technology uses minute, nanosized antenna arrays – which could use more than 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and concurrently convert it into usable electric power, the university added.

Willis has come up with a process called selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD). It was awarded a U.S. patent. Without such improvements, solar energy is not seen as a viable option to the widespread use of fossil fuels.

“Rectennas, because of their incredibly small and fast tunnel diodes, are capable of converting solar radiation in the infrared region through the extremely fast and short wavelengths of visible light – something that has never been accomplished before,” according to a report from UConn Today. “Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.”

The research has already gotten major funding. Willis and scientists from Penn State Altoona, along with SciTech Associates Holdings Inc., a research and development company based in State College, Pa., were awarded a $650,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

Willis and his colleagues expect to construct prototype rectennas and test them during this year. There already is significant interest in the project. 

Many current solar startups have faced a tough marketplace, TMCnet reported. Still, President Obama has been an advocate for solar and wind energy alternatives, news reports said. Advances to improve solar power technology are therefore well-received. 

“This new technology could get us over the hump and make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels,” Willis predicts. “This is brand new technology, a whole new train of thought.”

Edited by Braden Becker

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