Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have found a way of channeling solar energy directly into electrical appliances without the need for conventional solar panels.
By attaching fibre-optics cables directly to solar cells, light can effectively be turned into electricity.
The system uses the same type of fibre optics used by the telecommunications industry and covers them with zinc oxide nanowires to increase their surface area. The nanowires are then coated with dye-sensitized solar cells that convert the light into electricity.
Researchers say that sunlight entering the optical fibre passes into the nanowires, where it interacts with the dye molecules in the cells to produce an electrical current.
"You have multiple light reflections within the fibre, and multiple reflections within the nanostructures," explains Zhong Lin Wang, professor at the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, project's lead researcher. "These interactions increase the likelihood that the light will interact with the dye molecules, and that increases the efficiency."
The question of cost is always a concern--especially in the case of solar, a technology already under criticism for associated higher costs. As far as solar nanowires are concerned, at least at the onset, the potential for savings is tangible.
The solar cells are inexpensive to manufacture, flexible and mechanically robust. While they are currently less efficient than the silicon-based cells used in traditional solar panels, this can be countered by using the nanostructure arrays to increase the available surface area, making them in theory, up to six times more efficient than conventional solar panels.
Wang also adds that this breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize the way solar energy is harvested.
"Using this technology, we can make photovoltaic generators that are foldable, concealed and mobile," he explains. "Optical fibre could conduct sunlight into a building's walls where the nanostructures would convert it to electricity. This is truly a three-dimensional solar cell."
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