Traditional solar cells only use up to 20% of the visible light they collect, and more efficient solar cells are too expensive for mass production. Now researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho Laboratory have figured out a way to capture solar energy on the cheap: plastic sheets filled with billions of nanoantennas.
The nanoantennas are made up of small gold squares or spirals set in polyethylene. Researchers believe that under the right conditions, the simulated nanoantennas could harvest up to 92% of energy at infrared wavelengths.
While traditional solar cells only use visible light, the nanoantennas use mid-infrared rays. This means that they can still collect energy after dark.
Eventually, researchers hope that the plastic sheets of nanoantennas will power everything from hybrid cars to iPods.
Of course, there is still plenty of research that needs to be done before nanoantennas can go into production—in fact, scientists still don’t know how to convert energy from the devices into electricity. But the nanoantenna research is an interesting preview to a more affordable solar future. For now, though, we’ll have to make do with traditional devices.