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Solar sheet sucks up sunlight

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2011
Compiled by Photonics Spectra staff

COLUMBIA, Mo. – 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.

Generating energy using traditional photovoltaic (PV) methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic spectrum, said Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the University of Missouri chemical engineering department. The device his team 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’ goal is to extend the concept to a direct solar-facing nantenna device that can collect solar irradiation in the near-infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.

Working with scientists at the University of Colorado and the Idaho National Laboratory, the team has developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuits. To immediately convert laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced, the team has partnered with MicroContinuum Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

The overall goal is to collect and use as much solar energy as possible and to bring this technology to the commercial market in the least expensive way so that it is accessible to everyone. Pinhero’s group has begun securing funding from the US Department of Energy and private investors. The second phase will feature an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms.

The researchers believe that, within five years, they will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels; because their technology is a flexible film, they also think it could be incorporated into roof shingle products or be custom-made to power vehicles.

Once funding has been secured, the group envisions that several commercial infrared detection product spinoffs may be possible. These include improved contraband-identifying products for airports and the military, optical computing and infrared line-of-sight telecommunications.


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