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posted by hubie on Thursday February 22, @04:13PM   Printer-friendly

Solar cell efficiency may get a bump from bumps. New research suggests that building tiny domes into the surface of organic solar cells could boost their efficiency by up to two-thirds, while capturing light from a wider angle.

Solar cells are usually flat, which maximizes how much of the surface is exposed to sunlight at any given time. This design works best when the Sun is within a certain angle, so the panels are usually tilted between 15 and 40 degrees to get the most out of the day.

Scientists have toyed with other shapes for the surface, including embedding spherical nanoshells of silica which trap and circulate sunlight to allow the device to capture more energy from it. For the new study, scientists at Abdullah Gül University in Türkiye ran complex simulations of how dome-shaped bumps might boost organic solar surfaces.

The team studied photovoltaic cells made with an organic polymer called P3HT:ICBA as the active layer, above a layer of aluminum and a substrate of PMMA, capped off with a transparent protective layer of indium tin oxide (ITO). This sandwich structure was kept through the whole dome, or "hemispherical shell" as the team calls it.
Compared to flat surfaces, solar cells dotted with bumps showed 36% and 66% improvements in light absorption, depending on the polarization of the light. Those bumps also allowed light to enter from a wider range of directions than a flat surface, providing an angular coverage of up to 82 degrees.

Journal Reference:
Dooyoung Hah, Hemispherical-shell-shaped organic photovoltaic cells for absorption enhancement and improved angular coverage, Journal of Photonics for Energy, Vol. 14, Issue 1, 018501 (February 2024).

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Thursday February 22, @06:14PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday February 22, @06:14PM (#1345697)

    As I understand it, the "radioactive batteries" that pop up every decade or so since the 1950s, capture electrons (beta particles) in pits, the better the pit the better the electron capture.

    I'm sure there are more than a few manufacturing challenges for making square meters of photon capturing surfaces "bumpy" or "pitty", but if they are even getting a 33% increase in daily kWh captured that would (obviously) be worth more than a 33% increase in panel manufacturing costs, quite a bit more in space limited applications.

    🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Mojibake Tengu on Thursday February 22, @07:18PM (1 child)

      by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Thursday February 22, @07:18PM (#1345713) Journal

      Beta cells work best effective when engineered into capacitors. Collect and store.

      But that simple fact was already known about 120 years ago. I don't understand why educated people are systematically forgetting their own key technologies.
      I call this phenomenon "zazdívání" [English: 'walling up'], since to me it looks similar to walling naughty nuns and is obviously intentional by cults. Including the cult of Academy.

      Respect Authorities. Know your social status. Woke responsibly.
      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Thursday February 22, @08:22PM

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday February 22, @08:22PM (#1345718)

        I worked in a relatively obscure corner of pulmonology throughout the 1990s. During that time we watched countless "new discovery" papers being published in the field, repeating things that had been well established by the 1970s.

        I'll admit, my Masters' Thesis (which was not required to be novel) "invented" a concept which, after a couple of months of research, I found to be already on the market in a couple of commercial products. But, that was 1988 - you remember: paper card catalogs, inter-library loans of journals which take weeks to arrive... There's really no excuse these days for going through an entire academic paper authoring, submission and review process and publishing "new discoveries" of things that have been readily discovered with a few hours of research into the existing literature.

        Except that: nobody cares enough to read the paper, much less do any background research on the topic. So we have this "academic explosion" of new publications, new "discoveries" (parallel problems in the patent offices), and it makes the whole field look like a bunch of frantic, over-stressed, under-appreciated, insecure wankers desperate to stay ahead of the "publish or perish" mandates of their department chairs.

        🌻🌻 []
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by deimtee on Thursday February 22, @08:33PM (3 children)

    by deimtee (3272) on Thursday February 22, @08:33PM (#1345722) Journal

    I think in the real world you are going to lose that percentage gain as soon as the spaces between the bumps fill up with dirt. Bumpy surfaces are a pain to clean. Might work in space though, and that's one area where increased cost of manufacture would be almost irrelevant.

    If you cough while drinking cheap red wine it really cleans out your sinuses.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by RS3 on Thursday February 22, @08:44PM

      by RS3 (6367) on Thursday February 22, @08:44PM (#1345724)

      I'm not expert but there are automated cleaning systems for PV panels. Some of them look as simple as a lawn sprinkler. I'm envisioning a rotating soft brush on some kind of track system. Freezing would be a problem of course. Heat tape and insulation over that would help, but don't spray water on sub-freezing days.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday February 22, @08:45PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday February 22, @08:45PM (#1345726)

      But, in space you can keep your "house" oriented with the panels flat to the sun, and probably want to do that for a variety of reasons beyond collecting solar power.

      What I wondered, but not enough to RTFA, is what scale of bumps they are simulating. Are these bumps 1mm or 25mm across? Does scale even matter (much)? If it's done with "big bumps" then they shouldn't be as problematic to clean.

      🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Deep Blue on Thursday February 22, @08:52PM

      by Deep Blue (24802) on Thursday February 22, @08:52PM (#1345728)

      My first thought too, but what if you put a smooth surface on top of the bumpy surface. The bumps will still redirect the light from all around, but to the outside environment it still smooth.

  • (Score: 2) by DadaDoofy on Thursday February 22, @08:36PM (1 child)

    by DadaDoofy (23827) on Thursday February 22, @08:36PM (#1345723)

    I can build a "complex simulation" that shows whatever you want. Wake me when they have an actual prototype that does what they claim. And more importantly, when it can be determined such a product would be profitable to manufacture.

    • (Score: 1) by Deep Blue on Thursday February 22, @09:39PM

      by Deep Blue (24802) on Thursday February 22, @09:39PM (#1345736)

      Imho this is not really rocket surgery. If you can focus the light to the solar cell, it will transform more energy. I mean i was never that good at physics and i have a specific memory about the reflection/lense crap in physic labs, that i did not master it, but it should work. I do concur in that a prototype would be the way to go before announcing results, and it shouldn't be too hard to make one in this case. Someone with more knowledge can disprove what i just said, but so be it.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bzipitidoo on Friday February 23, @02:29AM

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Friday February 23, @02:29AM (#1345772) Journal

    One of the biggest problems with trying to be green are these predatory businesses that want to play on your sense of responsibility and fear of environmental catastrophe to sell you "green" products that are very expensive, and on balance not even particularly green. They also try to sell you on the idea that their stuff will save you money, and often, that's just not correct. That's one of the biggest things discrediting the whole green movement.

    I've had many door-to-door dual pane window salespeople bang on my parents' door to sell us on that one. Finally, I ran the numbers and concluded their pitches weren't even close to being worthwhile. I calculated that half our then annual energy costs of $1400 (we were far better than all our neighbors on that one, according to the door-to-door energy company reps trying to get us to switch to them) went to heating and cooling. They said the dual pane windows could reduce our heating and cooling costs by as much as 50%. Knowing what exaggeraters they are, I thought a 25% savings far more likely. Which meant, a savings of $175 per year. The windows were single pane, yes, but we were using drapes. I strongly suspect that 50% figure is based on single pane windows completely bare of drapes, blinds, or anything else, and also, facing south. They were asking $10,000 to upgrade the windows. I concluded that $2000 was all I was willing to pay, and even that I was hesitant about. If it did indeed save us $175 per year in energy bills, that was still 12 years to pay back the cost of those dual pane windows. They wouldn't or couldn't come anywhere close to my offer, so I sent every one of them away.

    Same story with rooftop solar. If those solar cells last for over 30 years, and if they aren't destroyed by hail, and if they generate as much electricity as they say, and if they either don't need a battery system or come with a good battery system that will also last, and if the local government doesn't seize on this home improvement as reason to raise the property taxes a lot, and if the underlying roof in the meantime doesn't need replacing at the probably considerable extra expense of having the solar cells removed then put back on, and if they don't need frequent maintenance, and if there isn't an energy company inserting themselves in the middle to the detriment of the homeowner, then maybe rooftop solar cells are worth doing, for a low enough price. But the price wasn't even close to that. They were asking a minimum of $35,000. Even if that saved the full amount of our $1400 annual energy costs, that's still 25 years to recover the costs. The best case scenario was much too long.

    The real savings are simple, economical things, not big fancy and frankly dumb home improvement projects. The switch from incandescent to CFL and then LED. The move from CRTs to flat screens first with fluorescent backlighting, then with even better LED backlighting. The move to 80plus efficient desktop computer power supplies. The vast increase in the efficiency of the humble refrigerator starting in 1996. One of the bigger ticket items is the A/C. Massive improvement there, from SEER ratings of 6 to 8, to minimums of 13 and 14, with 16 now fairly common. Yes, there is some question whether the newer units are as long lasting as the older less efficient stuff.

    Now, one of the most helpful things would be to back the bad neighbors off. Some neighbors are such jerks. Get their jollies by complaining to their neighbors and the HOAs and cities about their neighbors' yards, homes, cars, and so on. How the heck can we do No Mow May when the damned HOA or city threatens everyone who tries it with massive fines for not keeping their grass short enough? We have a climate emergency, and these idiots are more interested in bullying the neighbors and making enemies than cooperating to help deal with our common problems.

    Another big help would be a change to our customs. We spend way too much energy on cleanliness. Shirts can be worn for more than one day. Clothes can be hung to dry rather than tumbled in a ridiculously energy intensive clothes dryer. Many of us don't need to take a shower every single day. But social norms have become such that we feel we must. There's also a massive gender imbalance, with women somehow obliged to do 5x as much work as men in order to look good. Getting their hair permed and dyed and styled. Sitting in a hair salon for hours getting braids. Getting a pedicure and manicure. Most people are highly overimpressed by appearances, and so, most of us work hard to look our best. Our ancestors sure didn't do all that in the 19th century.