Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia think they have made a breakthrough in solar technology that could replace conventional solar panels in a decade with a kind of high-tech wallpaper.
The key is something called a nanoantenna, a teeny device that is 1/25 the diameter of a human hair, that collects the energy of heat from the sun or other sources and turns it into electricity. It takes lots and lost of the little things to collect enough heat to produce meaningful power. Silicon-based solar collectors collect only about 20 percent of available light. Engineering professor Patrick Pinhero’s flexible solar sheet is loaded with nanoantennas that can increase that efficiency to about 90 percent.
He thinks walls of the flexible material can capturing large amounts of waste industrial heat within five years.. Within ten years, they might replace conventional solar panels. “The real hope is…that this can be used in third world countries, in rural remote areas [and] it can be used in disaster relief.”
All of this counts on an industry that will move the technology into an inexpensively-produced commercial product. Pinhero admits the development is so exciting that he has to avoid getting carried away with talk about its possibilities.