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Solar Nano Technology

Updated on September 26, 2012

Solar Nano

Nano Silicon Cell and Nano Wires
Nano Silicon Cell and Nano Wires

Solar Nano Technology

Walk outside and you can feel the suns energy in the form of light and heat. This energy is useless to us until it is converted into electricity. So far the best solution to this problem has been to use solar power. We all know that solar power is an important source of alternative energy. Solar panels are everywhere from rooftop panels, to small cells powering electronic devices. Its no wonder that solar power has become such a growing industry. Right now the only problem with solar power is that it requires a lot of panels to produce a relatively small amount of energy. Current solar panels that use silicon to absorb the suns energy can only produce about 10-15% of electricity from the energy that they absorb. If only there was a solution to increase that output. Well it looks like there just may be an answer at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The University is a part of a partnership along with Cleanfield Energy and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). They have joined forces with one goal in mind and that is to try and produce solar cells commercially using nanowire technology. As seen on the television show G Word, on the Planet Green channel, this university has a Nanotechnology Research Team lead by Professor Ray LaPierre that is experimenting with using nanowires to help increase the efficiency of solar cells. What they do is they take a silicon wafer and sprinkle tiny gold particles onto the surface. Once the gold is added they need to grow the nanowires. That is done by putting the silicon wafer into a Molecular Beam Epitaxy or basically a fancy evaporator. According to an article from Technology Review, the aim is to eventually produce solar cells using layers of Group III-V materials. This would include gallium arsenide, indium gallium phosphide, aluminum gallium arsenide, and gallium arsenide phosphide. These have much greater efficiencies than silicon does when used in conventional crystalline solar cells but the cost of these materials is greater than silicon and has limited their use. So for now they use gold because it has a stable molecular structure. The wires then grow underneath the gold. Each wire is about 100 nanometers wide compared to a human hair that is about 800 nanometers, so it’s basically invisible to the naked eye. The length of the nanowires allows for better absorption and the width allows for freer movement and collection of the electrons. The short term goal is to increase solar cell efficiency by 20% within five years. Long term though the use of these nanowires should absorb up to 50% more energy from the sun. When thinking about the cost of using nanowire it becomes less of an issue because they use so little material. This is also apart of their goal to produce flexible and affordable solar cells that are made from nanowires. This could mean that more efficient solar panels will become cheaper to consumers than less efficient ones. McMaster University says that the use of nanowires offers many advantages that conventional solar cells cannot compete with. The production of nanowire solar cells will use less material and utilize low-cost substrates. That means that making solar cells will better even more eco-friendly for the environment which will make using solar power the ultimate alternative energy source. It could also mean that one day the solar panels on your roof will provide all the electricity you may need to run your house. The new nano technology brings an even more promising future for solar power.


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