Solar Sheet Sucks Up Sunlight
COLUMBIA, Mo., June 6, 2011 — A flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light is slated to hit the consumer market within the next five years.
Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the University of Missouri (MU) chemical engineering department, said energy generated using traditional photovoltaic methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic spectrum. The device his team has developed — essentially a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna — can harvest the heat from industrial processes and convert it into usable electricity. The researchers' ambition is to extend the concept to a direct solar-facing nantenna device capable of collecting solar irradiation in the near-infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.
Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the University of Missouri chemical engineering department, is developing a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light. Today's solar panels collect only 20 percent of available light. (Image: MU News Bureau)
Working with Garrett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, and his former team at Idaho National Laboratory, Pinhero and his team have developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry. This team also partnered with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., to immediately port laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.
"Our overall goal is to collect and utilize as much solar energy as is theoretically possible and bring it to the commercial market in an inexpensive package that is accessible to everyone," Pinhero said. "If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today."
As part of a roll-out plan, the group is securing funding from the US Department of Energy and private investors. The second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms.
Within five years, the research team believes it will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels. Because it is a flexible film, Pinhero believes it could be incorporated into roof shingle products or custom-made to power vehicles.
Once the funding is secure, Pinhero envisions several commercial product spinoffs such as infrared detection. These include improved contraband-identifying products for airports and the military, optical computing, and infrared line-of-sight telecommunications.
For more information, visit: www.missouri.edu
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