A new device to tap more solar energy invented

May 17th, 2011 - 3:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 17 (IANS) An engineer here claims to have invented a device that can tap solar energy more efficiently than a solar panel.

The biggest failing of solar panels is that they can only collect about a fraction or just 20 percent of available light but Patrick Pinhero, a University of Missouri engineer, has developed a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light.

“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,” said Pinhero, who plans to market prototypes within the next five years.

Energy generated using traditional photovoltaic methods of collection neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum, he said.

The device his team has developed - essentially a thin, mouldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna - can harvest the heat from industrial processes and convert it into usable electricity, the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering reported.

Their idea is to apply it to a direct solar facing nantenna device capable of collecting solar energy in the near infrared and optical regions of solar spectrum, according to a Missouri statement.

Pinhero, working with his former team at the Idaho National Lab and Garrett Moddel, his counterpart at the University of Colorado, has now developed a way to extract power from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry.

“If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today,” added Pinhero.

Within five years, the research team believes they 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 be custom-made to power vehicles.

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