Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed technology that can concentrate solar energy and may be able to make solar modules more efficient.
The researchers devised a fiber made of carbon nanotubes, wherein electrons are excited and move to the center of the fiber. Nanotubes are hollow straws made of carbon atoms - and they're so small that the fiber, which is only 10 micrometers long and four micrometers thick, contains 30 million of them.
The research team plans to build a solar photovoltaic device using the carbon nanotube system. The scientists expect that their technology will be able to make solar equipment far smaller; future rooftop solar power systems, they say, could be a fraction of the size of the full-roof arrays that are common today.
"You could have little spots that were tiny photovoltaic cells, with antennas that would drive photons into them," chemical engineering professor Michael Strano said.
Carbon nanotubes have potential applications in medical, aerospace and battery technology, and their prices could drop in the future. If that happens, Strano said, adding the tubes to present-day photovoltaic equipment would be economically feasible.
"The addition to a solar cell might be negligible compared to the fabrication and raw material cost of the cell itself," he suggested.