Solar efficiencies have increased incrementally over the past years, but they are still hovering around 20% – however now an engineer from the University of Missouri claims to have developed a flexible solar sheet that could revolutionize solar power by soaking up over 90% of the sun’s energy. Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, developed a thin, moldable solar sheet composed of microscopic antennas called nantennas that is able to harvest heat and convert it into usable electricity. Best of all, he says that the technology could be available to the general public within five years.

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Pinhero found that current photovoltaic solar technology is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic spectrum found in sunlight. His flexible nantenna sheet offers a new way to extract electricity from solar heat using special high-speed electrical circuitry. Working with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., the team has been able to create easy-to-manufacturable solar devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.

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

Within five years, the research team believes they will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels. Because it’s a flexible film, Pinhero believes it could be incorporated into roof shingle products, or be custom-made to power vehicles.

A study on the design and manufacturing process was published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering.

+ University of Missouri

Photos by Idaho National Laboratory