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Research at U of U could boost power potential of solar panels

Posted at 9:38 PM, Jun 15, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah has spent three years developing a product that could boost the potential of solar power around the world.

Rajesh Menon, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, spoke about their efforts.

“One of the big challenges in solar energy is the fact that electricity produced from solar energy is more expensive than what can be produced by fossil fuels,” Menon said.

Menon said that most solar energy cells are only able to absorb a very narrow range of the wave lengths from sunlight.

“Sunlight has many different colors,” Menon said. “You have light in the ultraviolet, which causes skin cancer, to visible light which allows us to see, to infrared, which gives us heat.”

Menon said most panels only capture about 30 percent of the potential power and he said the process could be much more efficient. The solution is a specially prepared piece of plastic or glass.

“What we have done is, essentially, take these different colors of light and separated them into different bands and allocated them to different materials that can absorb those different bands very efficiently,” he said.

The material can be applied to existing panels and are anticipated to increase the panel’s productivity by 50 percent or more.

Menon said the process to create the material is inexpensive, but he said it’s not ready for production yet.

“It is research in progress, but I believe maybe in the order of 5 to 10 years a commercial prototype could be built and could demonstrate significantly higher efficiency than is possible with today's panels,” he said.