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Opening a New Window for Solar

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Other than mice, if there's one dependable meme to emerge at, it's that solar energy is a technology to track.

We don't know if it's going to be pholotovoltaic solar, concentated solar, big company solar, little-bitty solar or government-sponsored solar, but we're pretty sure that solar's future is, gulp, bright.

So it, ahem, warms our hearts to learn that scientists at MIT led by electrical engineer Marc A. Baldo have devised a really simple way to increase the power generated by a solar cell "by a factor of over 40."

To quote Elizabeth A. Thompson at MIT's news office: "The MIT solar concentrator involves a mixture of two or more dyes that is essentially painted onto a pane of glass or plastic. The dyes work together to absorb light across a range of wavelengths, which is then re-emitted at a different wavelength and transported across the pane to waiting solar cells at the edges."

Presto. No endless array on the roof and no need to track the sun as it traverses the sky. And, if you've already invested in fancy — and expensive — solar cells, the new technology can be pasted on the old, increasing efficiency there by half, according to Baldo's team. Their work was spotlighted in the July 11 edition of Science.


The idea of using dyed material to concentrate more solar wavelengths isn't new, but being able to push the collected light efficiently to the cells is. "We made it so the light can travel a much longer distance," said grad student Jon Mapel, who, with Michael Currie, Timothy Heidel and post-doc Shalom Goffri, worked with Baldo. "We were able to substantially reduce light transport losses, resulting in a tenfold increase in the amount of power converted by the solar cells."

So in what century do we see this? This one — Mapel estimates we might see the fruits of this labor within three years. Plus he's got a dog in this fight — he, Currie and Goffri have founded Covalent Solar, a company that, based on this new concentrator, aims to make hay while the sun shines.