Intelligent Energy

Scientists harvest solar power - in the dark

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Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls have fused nanotechnology to solar cells in order to harvest infrared radiation - day or night.

A NASA diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls are harnessing infrared radiation to produce a solar cell that will work even in the dark of night, UPI reports.

The energy of electromagnetic radiation surrounds us, but is only light is visible to the human eye. The full electromagnetic spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays.

Yet, most existing solar panels have only effectively harnessed light energy while allowing nearly half of the energy in the spectrum (in the form of infrared waves) to pass by mostly unused. It took the nation's top nuclear laboratory to fully comprehend the potential of radiation.

Idaho National Laboratory scientist Steven Novack first announced its intention to utilize both infrared radiation and visible light in 2008. The capture of infrared radiation is made possible by specially designed nano-antennae that are grafted onto the surface of photovoltaic solar panels.

Novack announced the completion of an infrared ready solar cell today. The system, which can absorb radiation at many angles, has an estimated overall efficiency of 46 percent, he told UPI. Conventional solar cells are 25 percent efficient under optimal light conditions.

Other approaches to overcome darkness have combined solar power with thermal power technologies. SolarReserve has developed a system that uses solar energy to heat molten salts during the daytime, which in turn generate heat that spin turbines at night.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure