Scientists have developed a new hybrid solar cell that harnesses the sun’s light and heat to create more energy than ever before, thanks to the pairing of a photovoltaic cell with polymer films. The resulting hybrid solar cell can produce up to five times the voltage of existing technology. Although this type of solar cell is a great deal more expensive than others, the researchers behind the breakthrough are hopeful that consumers will find the increased solar energy production far outweighs the higher cost.
Each generation of new solar cells is more efficient than the previous at turning the sun’s light into energy. Developers are attempting to make the cells more efficient, sometimes by simply adding more surface area as in these double-sided solar panels. However, even the latest iterations still fail to make use of much of the sun’s radiation, even though the solar cells are exposed to it. Hybridizing the material solar cells are composed of is one way to increase efficiency, so researchers are experimenting with various substances to make that happen. In this breakthrough, Eunkyoung Kim and colleagues utilized a clear, conductive polymer known as PEDOT and it worked better than expected.
The PEDOT film, which heats up in response to light, is layered with a dye-sensitive solar cell and then placed atop a pyroelectric thin film and a thermoelectric device, both of which can convert heat into electricity. The result is a contraption that harnesses solar energy at a rate of more than 20 percent higher than the solar cell on its own. This is made possible because the hybrid cell can generate electricity from the sun’s heat as well as light.