This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

May 25, 2005

New Technologies Promise to Revolutionize the Solar Power Industry

While the conventional silicon solar cell industry is facing supply constraints, a number of new solar cell technologies aim to produce solar cells from new materials, at lower cost, with higher efficiencies, and in new forms. With a wide diversity of approaches, the photovoltaic solar cell industry remains dynamic, and the next breakthrough appears to be just around the next corner.

One of the most promising new technologies is quantum dots, particles of semiconductor material smaller than 10 billionths of a meter. At such small scales, quantum effects cause the dots to respond differently to light depending on their size, an effect allowing the dots to be "tuned" to different wavelengths of light. A new study from DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Naval Research Laboratory suggests that quantum dots could theoretically yield a solar cell with twice the efficiency of today's solar cells. Quantum dots can produce as many as three electrons from a single photon of light, so they can theoretically convert as much as 65 percent of the sun's energy into electricity, according to the researchers. The findings were published in a recent issue of the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters journal. See the NREL press release.

Quantum dots aren't just theory: Evident Technologies, already considered a leader in quantum dot development, recently teamed with Konarka Technologies, Inc. in an effort to combine quantum dots with Konarka's flexible plastic solar cells. Meanwhile, Konarka is also incorporating its so-called "power plastic" into tents and portable chargers for the U.S. Army, even coloring it with a camouflage pattern, while also working on power-generating fibers and plastics. And for those who prefer foil to plastic, DayStar Technologies, Inc. is developing its TerraFoil, a flexible metallic solar cell made by depositing thin films of semiconductor material onto foil. See the March 23rd and May 4th press releases from Konarka, as well as the DayStar Technologies press release.

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