Solar Cell Technology Takes a Leap

Olga Kharif

Your shirt, your car, even your MP3 player could, in a few years, be doubling as electricity generators. University of Toronto researchers have just published a paper in Nature Materials journal about their infrared-sensitive material that could be sprayed onto practically any surface to catch the sun’s invisible rays.

To put it another way: This material could even collect energy in the dark. Consisting of tiny, nano-sized particles, the technology could potentially be combined with existing solar cell know-hows to harvest 30% of the sun’s energy vs. today’s 6% or so. The implications of this technology, described on the University of Toronto’s Web site , are mind-boggling: With this kind of efficiency, solar energy could become a truly viable alternative to oil, natural gas and fossil fuel.

Forget those ugly – and expensive -- solar roofs, which still require their owners to hook up to power lines. Applied to casing, this technology could power consumer electronics devices like MP3 players, laptops and cell phones – and do away with the battery as we know it, says Josh Wolfe, managing partner at New York-based Lux Partners venture capital firm that’s considering funding the technology.

Plus, it could be used on massive solar farms, says Ted Sargent, a professor at the University of Toronto who lead the research group working on this project. The sun gives us 1,000 more energy than we use every day, so the sky is the limit for applications.

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