Bandgap Engineering, a startup company that received $750,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2011, is aiming to double the efficiency of solar cells.
The company that is based in Massachusetts has been focusing on how tiny nanowires boost the electrical output of solar cells by enhancing absorption of solar energy. Below is a picture of how the structure of these tiny nanostructures appears when put under the lens of an electron microscope.
Image via Bandgap Engineering
You can see the nanowires sticking up from the surface on the right side. Photons are “trapped” by the nanowires, which supposedly enables the solar cell to soak in more sunlight.
The theoretical potential of the nanowire-approach has been calculated to be 60% – that is more than half of the energy in incoming solar radiation is converted into electricity.
Bandgap Engineering says they will be able to double the performance of today`s solar cells, up to a conversion rate of 38% , as well as lower the cost. They claim to be able to produce solar cells that would end up costing less than 1 dollar per watt – considerably less than conventional solar cells.
Many companies are working on similar approaches to boost the efficiency rates of solar cells. If you’ve been following the development in the industry lately, you`ve probably heard of three-dimensional solar cells and algae nanostructures.
There is clearly a lot of potential in these technologies. It will be interesting to see which of them (if any) actually succeeds on the highly competitive solar market a couple of years down the line. Who knows, maybe Bandgap Engineering is able to bring down solar panels cost in the near future, ultimately making solar panels available for more people.