Friday, November 02, 2012

Low Cost Solar Cells Very Real Possibility in Near Future

As anyone who has dabbled with solar power knows, cells and arrays are frightfully expensive, even if you are generating modest voltages and currents.   Part of the expense is the labor intensive manufacturing process and another is the exotic materials used in the construction, such as Indium.

Now, according to Stanford News Service, scientists at Stanford have succeeded in assembling a functioning solar cell out of one atom thick carbon nano-tubes and buckey-balls. 

As difficult as that sounds to create, the cells can be deposited using thin film production techniques.  There are many aspects of this technology that are exciting, first the cells would be all carbon, which as you know is very common.  Second, because it would be a thin film, the possibility of flexibility is a very real possibility allowing them to be laid over very complex structures, something the present rigid solar cells can not do.  Plus, since the manufacturing process envisioned is thin film depositing requiring far fewer steps, the manufacture cost would be a fraction of present day cell costs.  The next cost saving is accomplished using strictly carbon as the material of choice, which again would drive down the cost.

Carbon is a good all round choice.  First it's very very common and second the cells would be very durable, third, carbon nano-tubes have the potential towards far better conductivity and much more efficient light-absorption  characteristics.

Of course that is in the future.  At present, the carbon solar cells are less than 1% efficient and only adsorb in the near infra-red but the Stanford team is already studying materials that would generate power over a broader spectrum including visible light.

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