Solar cells convert sunlight to electricity. But they don’t take advantage of all that solar heat, thereby missing out on the majority of the solar energy reaching the cell. The sun’s heat can be captured to warm up liquid that can then warm a building’s water, but those devices don’t generate electricity. Now, scientists have developed a single device to do both.
It’s an array of clear tubes, each five milimeters in diameter. The tubes are filled with oil blended with a proprietary dye. A polymer photovoltaic gets sprayed onto the back of the tubes. When sunlight hits the tubes the liquid within becomes superheated. In a home situation, it would then flow into a heat pump to transfer that heat. Meanwhile, sunlight also strikes the polymer, where it’s converted to electricity.
The scientists say that their device has a 30 percent efficiency in converting sunlight into power. Conventional solar-only devices with polymer absorbers have less than 10 percent efficiency. The research appears in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells. [D. W. Zhao et al., "Optimization of inverted tandem organic solar cells"]
Continued research and development should shed more light—and a lot more heat—on the entire field of alternative energy production.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]