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On the road to better solar panels

By Peter N. SpottsStaff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / October 26, 2008



One drawback to solar cells these days is their tendency to work best over a fairly narrow stretch of visible light’s spectrum. As a result, they take advantage of a relatively small portion of the light that the sun emits – and therefore don’t deliver as much juice as they should. Now, researchers have hit on mixtures of metal and electrically conductive plastic – a so-called hybrid material – that, taken together, absorb sunlight over the full width of the visible spectrum.

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Other teams have identified semiconductors that can take advantage of the full spectrum of visible light. For instance, six years ago, scientists at Cornell University, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and Japan’s Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto found that the semiconductor indium nitride also displayed an ability to capture light over virtually the entire visible spectrum. But this new work – which is essentially a proof of concept – appears to be the first to approach this goal with hybrid materials.

The results, from scientists at Ohio State University and National Taiwan University, appeared in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.