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(Flickr / CC BY 2.0)
(Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Abstract:
Nanotechnology could make solar energy a cheap, sustainable option

By Lance Mudryk

Prof researching better solar panels

Alberta, Canada | Posted on May 15th, 2010

With his $20,000 research grant, Karthik Shankar intends to develop a more efficient, cheaper solar panel using nanotechnology.

The University of Alberta engineering professor's research is largely based on the increased functionality of solar cells. By implementing nanotechnology into semiconductors — materials used to convert sunlight into electricity — his solar panels will be able to harvest light more intensely and access a wider spectrum of the light given off by the sun.

"A solar cell works by harvesting light and converting it into electricity," Shankar explained. "(We're) using metal nanoparticles which have these so-called plasmonic properties."

According to Shankar, these plasmonic properties make the electromagnetic field of a structure much stronger. This will help the solar cells convert more electricity out of the light they're exposed to.

"When we simulated them, we saw that these nanoparticles have a certain resonance, and at that resonance they really amplify the electromagnetic fields around those particles," he said.

Shankar believes that his proposal could possibly help solar technology take off, largely due to its economic feasibility. By using organic materials, metals, and a semiconductor known as titanium dioxide, costs could be dramatically lowered.

"(What we're proposing is) potentially a lot cheaper than what's out there," he said. "One of the problems that's preventing the eruption of solar technology is that the solar cells, which are made from American silicon, are very expensive. And so they're still not a viable competitor to fossil fuels."

Even though Shankar has been developing this proposal for a year now, he still believes that his idea could take five to 10 years before it will be commercially viable.

"The first objective is to translate these ideas, perform experiments, and actually realize the idea. Later on, if the idea is successful, we'll probably try to commercialize it in a spin-off company or license the intellectual property to a bigger company if they're interested."

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