Solar Energy: Creating electricity from invisible light


The Molecular Photonics Laboratories at UNSW Sydney. Credit: UNSW Sydney/Exciton Science

A world-first in light conversion has potential future implications for solar photovoltaics, biomedical imaging, drug delivery and photocatalysis.

Two major breakthroughs in solar cell technology could vastly improve the way energy is harvested from the sun.

The two studies, published in Nature Energy and Nature Photonics, will transform the efficiency and significantly reduce the cost of producing solar cells, scientists say.

The first breakthrough involves “upconverting” low energy, non-visible light into high energy light in order to generate more electricity from the same amount of sunlight.

Researchers at RMIT University and UNSW University in Australia and the University of Kentucky in the US discovered that oxygen could be used to transfer low energy light into molecules that can be converted into electricity.

“The energy from the sun is not just visible light. The spectrum is broad, including infrared light which gives us heat and ultraviolet light which can burn our skin,” said Professor Tim Schmidt from UNSW Sydney.

“Most solar cells… are made from silicon, which cannot respond to light less energetic than the near infrared. This means that some parts of the light spectrum are going unused by many of our current devices and technologies.”

The technique involves using tiny semiconductors known as quantum dots to absorb the low energy light and turn it into visible light to capture the energy.

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