Pockets of the 3D silicon-based solar cell (via Solar3D)
A relatively new California-based company has been looking to get their foot in the door of the silicon-based solar-cell world, and they may have just blown the door wide open with their prototype 3-dimensional solar cell. Solar3D developed the cell using a wide-angle design over conventional solar-cells. The company states that the wide-angle application is able to collect more light during the mornings and evenings, through the winter months, and even when the sky is overcast.
Current solar tech has 3 fundamental flaws that include solar reflection, electron re-absorption (because of the distance electrons must travel to reach a contact wire) and the aforementioned light-loss. These flaws are side-stepped in Solar3D's design. The cells themselves are constructed using 3D silicon-based photovoltaic micro-structures that are etched into the wafers themselves. These micro-structures trap the sunlight’s photons where they ‘bounce around’ until they are converted to electrons. The company states that this process provides 200% more energy efficiency in comparison over today’s solar-cell technology. (Which bring it to around 20-30% efficient, for the record.)
They also state that using the almost inexhaustible supply of Earths silicon is more cost beneficial over incorporating rare-earth metals for solar-power conversion, which is what led to Solyndra’s recent filing of bankruptcy. Although their design might be revolutionary, they still haven’t applied their 3D solar-cell prototype in commercial applications, which means their claim of 200% efficiency might only be in theory. The cell is also certainly not the first 3D design as researchers from MIT unveiled their 3D solar array earlier this year (back in March of 2012) which featured multiple stacked photovoltaic cells arranged into a shape that closely resembles an accordion. Placing the cells in their ‘stacked’ fashion enabled the 3D design to ‘gather more light over time per area of ground’ which was, again, more efficient at light gathering and conversion over standard 2D solar designs.
While Solar3D’s prototype design may only be ultra-efficient at photon/electron conversion in theory, it stands to reason that commercial incorporation may only see projected energy conversion loss of only a couple of percentage points over their stated 200%. This would make it the most efficient silicon-based solar cell to date.