New Solar Cells are 20x More Efficient

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on February 11, 2015
MIT Solar Panels

It’s amazing how many product designs mimic efficiencies seen in nature. Turbine wind blades were initially modeled after humpback whale fins. Velcro was developed after a swiss engineer noted how burrs stuck to his pant legs. Speedo’s water friction reducing “Shark Suits,” which allow for faster swimming were inspired by shark scales.

Certainly, propellers existed before turbines, a needle and thread was standard before velcro, and people have been swimming long before enhanced wet suits were introduced. However, these are all examples of natural architectural elements, through science and engineering, being replicated, isolated, and focused to better satisfy needs and ultimately improve the way we do things.

Inspired by Nature

Nature usually has it right, and is an immeasurably fantastic resource to draw design inspiration from. Now, in an exceptionally promising display of that action, researchers have designed a highly improved solar cell, modeled after tree leaves.

By way of photosynthesis, plants are solar powered. Their leaves have a layered structure, which absorb light and convert it to energy. Based on this design, MIT researchers created a new solar cell with alternating layers of titanium dioxide, which absorbs light, and graphene, which transports energy. The result? A new solar cell design that is 20 times more efficient than previous designs. That’s a huge step.

Solar power is so clean and renewable it’s gratifying to imagine a world where a majority of energy used is derived from the sun. Some naysayers doubt it will ever happen- costs too much, isn’t efficient, other options are cheaper. And, admittedly, it has taken decades for this recent discovery to hit. However, the fact is that with every technology, engineering improves and costs decline, eventually to a mass production and distribution scale. Remember just a few years ago when plasma televisions were rare and cost $8,000? Now they’re almost free and used everywhere. When that exponential curve kicks in, costs fall through the floor and efficiency and utilization go through the ceiling.

I’m excited to the direction this takes the solar energy initiative.

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