According to the American Institute of Physics, a new ultra-thin solar cell technology could help with the creation of radiation-resistant solar cells. This technology could increase the longevity of solar cells and reduce the amount of materials needed to create solar panels or similar solar tech that could power everything from satellites to houses.

Continue reading below
Our Featured Videos

Ultra-thin solar cells for satellites

“As low Earth orbit becomes more cluttered, it becomes increasingly necessary to use middle Earth orbits, and radiation-tolerant cell designs will be needed. Making photovoltaics thinner should increase their longevity because the charge carriers have less far to go during their shortened lifetimes,” stated the report published in the “Journal for Applied Physics” via Science Daily says.

In response to this need, scientists have proposed a radiation-tolerant photovoltaic cell design that includes an ultra-thin layer of light-absorbing material. This thinner design needs 3.5 times less cover glass to deliver the same amount of power even after 20 years of operation.

Related: Revolutionizing energy with perovskite solar cells

A rooftop with two rows of solar panels

Why we still need better solar power technologies

Batteries are improving for storing clean energy, solar and wind. Technologies are getting more efficient every day, and yet we still have not reached the tipping point where solar has become cheaper than dirty coal and gas. That’s mostly because solar panels are expensive to install, both for power companies and for individuals.

As technologies improve, the research going into producing better solar technology makes it possible to cut down on the research costs needed to further develop the technology. Just as your laptop computer keeps getting faster and thinner without costing more, solar technology is also getting cheaper. New technologies that make solar more efficient, more durable or that require fewer materials to produce get that price down to make clean energy affordable for all.

The promise of ultra-thin solar for consumers

“When solar cells absorb light, they transfer its energy to negatively charged electrons in the material,” the scientists who published this report explained. “These charge carriers are knocked free and generate a flow of electricity across the photovoltaic. Irradiation in space causes damage and lowers efficiency by displacing atoms in the solar cell material and reducing the lifetime of the charge carriers. Making photovoltaics thinner should increase their longevity because the charge carriers have less far to go during their shortened lifetimes.”

Low orbit around Earth is increasingly cluttered by satellites, and so middle Earth orbits that are closer to Earth’s proton radiation belt are a new location for placing satellites. The solar panels powering these satellites need to be radiation tolerant.

But orbiting satellites aren’t the only place where this new technology can help make solar more efficient. From outer space exploring harsh high-radiation environments to long-lasting solar technology on earth in sunny high-radiation environments like deserts and mountaintops, the time for solar to be more robust is here.

Building photovoltaic devices

For this research, investigators built two types of photovoltaic devices using the semiconductor gallium arsenide. One was a one-chip design built by layering substances in a stack. The other design used a silver back mirror to enhance light absorption.

A roof covered in solar panels

The scientists mimicked radiation in space by bombarding the devices with protons at the Dalton Cumbrian Nuclear Facility in the U.K. The scientists then examined the performance of the photovoltaic devices before and after irradiation, using a technique known as cathodoluminescence that can give a measure of radiation damage. The scientists then put the solar devices through a second set of tests using a Compact Solar Simulator, which measured how well the devices could converted sunlight to power after being exposed to radiation.

“Our ultra-thin solar cell outperforms the previously studied, thicker devices for proton radiation above a certain threshold. The ultra-thin geometries offer favorable performance by two orders of magnitude relative to previous observations,” said author Armin Barthel.

Sound too far out to help with your rooftop solar install? Most space and defense research eventually trickles down as technology for the private sector. If this technology pans out as well as it seems, you might soon be seeing private companies repeating this technique to create ultra-thin solar panels for cars, rooftop solar and even wearable solar tech. With fewer materials required, this means that solar tech could scale down to a thinner, less cumbersome technology for all types of solar power applications.

Via Science Daily

Images via Pexels