Despite the enormous untapped potential of solar energy, one thing is for sure- photovoltaics are only as good as the sun’s rays shining upon them. However, researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory are close to the production of a super-thin solar film that would be cost-effective, imprinted on flexible materials, and would be able to harvest solar energy even after sunset!

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The technique involves the embedding of square spirals of conducting metal onto a sheet of plastic, each of which, referred to as a “nanoantenna,” just 1/25 the diameter of a human hair. The nanoantennas absorb infrared energy, which is absorbed by the earth during the day and released even hours after the sun goes down. The nanoantennas are thus able to harvest energy both during daytime hours and into the early evening. Because they can take in energy from both sunlight and the earth’s heat, the nanoantennas have a much higher efficiency (and potential applicability) than conventional solar cells.

The scientific principle isn’t a new one, but the manufacturing process that maximizes efficiency certainly is state-of-the-art. The innovation within nanotechnology is what has allowed the nanoantennas to be efficiently embedded to absorb energy in a flexible and inexpensive material. Just imagine the possibilities…

+ Idaho National Library + Solar cells that work at night