Nanowires Break Limit of Solar Cell Efficiency

How much energy can we use from the sun's rays? Apparently, we can utilize far more than previously thought. A new study shows that the energy limit is far higher than first believed.

The new study, described in the journal Nature Photonics, studied how to develop and improve the quality of nanowire crystals. These nanowires possess a cylindrical structure and a diameter that's about 10,000 part of a human hair. They hold enormous potential for the development of solar cells and the future of quantum computers and other electronic products.

So how do these nanowires work? They naturally concentrate the sun's rays into a very small area in the crystal that they possess by up to a factor of 15. Due to the tiny nature of the wire's diameter, the crystal can cause resonances in the intensity of light in and around nanowires. These resonances can concentrate the sunlight and convert it into energy, essentially giving a higher conversion efficiency of the sun's light.

Previously, scientists thought that the efficiency limit of sunlight was far lower. Known as the "Shockley Queisser Limit," it was held as a landmark for solar cell efficiency for many years. Yet with the discovery and development of these nanowires, it seems that the limit is far higher than previously thought.

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