A novel fabrication technique developed by UConn engineering professor Brian Willis could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve today’s solar energy systems.
For years, scientists have studied the potential benefits of a new branch of solar energy technology that relies on incredibly small nanosized antenna arrays that are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70% of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power.
The technology would be a vast improvement over the silicon solar panels in widespread use today. Even the best silicon panels collect only about 20% of available solar radiation, and separate mechanisms are needed to convert the stored energy to usable electricity for the commercial power grid. The panels’ limited efficiency and expensive development costs have been two of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of solar power as a practical replacement for traditional fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, the stumbling block for nanoantenna solar arrays has always been the inability to produce a rectifier small or fast enough to convert electron flows to usable energy at the speeds of visible (and infrared) light. Researchers at the University of Connecticut have now developed a way to use atomic deposition technology (widely used in the production of microelectronics) to create small, fast rectifiers (or 'rectennas') that should, in theory, convert the high frequency electron flows generated by the nanoantennae into usable electricity.
Could this really be the breakthrough moment that at last allows an alternative-energy source to truly compete with non-renewable sources on all fronts: convenience, availability, efficiency and cost?