There are two major drawbacks with current solar materials:
Their inability to capture all wavelengths in a ray of light
Their difficulty capturing the electrons generated from the light
Researchers at The Ohio State University have created a new material that overcomes these two obstacles. They have done this by combining electrically conductive plastic with fancy metals, including molybdenum and titanium.
There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum,” explained Malcolm Chisholm, Distinguished University Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Ohio State.
Sunlight contains the entire spectrum of color. These colors include the colors that we see in a rainbow or through a prism. All of these colors are a form of energy. The current solar materials can only capture a fraction of these colors. Researchers say this new material collects energy from the entire spectrum of light.
How do solar materials create electricity?
First, light energizes atoms in the material and electrons are knocked loose. This process is known as charge separation. After charge separation occurs, the electrons are collected from the material as an electrical current.
The problem is that the electrons only remain free for a very small amount of time before they return to their respective atom. Because the amount of time the electrons are free is so small, approximately 12 trillionths of a second, current solar materials don’t capture very many of the electrons.
This hybrid solar material keeps the electrons free for much longer, 200 millionths of a second. This is about 10 million times longer. To a normal person, the difference between 12 trillionths and 200 millionth of second isn’t conceivable, but to solar panels it’s a really long time. The material does this by emitting electrons in a triplet state. Current solar panels emit electrons in a singlet state. Getting into the different states of electrons is way beyond me so I put some links explaining the physics of excited electron states.
Now that we all have a PHD in solar materials, What’s next?
Researchers say that this technology is years away from commercial development, but it creates huge potential for solar energy. Solar materials that absorb all the energy in light can generate much larger amounts of electricity. The Ohio State University has committed $100 million over the next five years to further develop this technology. This can lead to solar power becoming a more viable source of energy and new technologies for products such as solar roofing shingles.
Solar energy is clean, plentiful, and renewable. This is another step in breaking us of our addiction to fossil fuels.