MIT Developing Thermophotovoltaic Cells for ‘Perfect’ Solar Panels

A press release from MIT describes work being done there in the development of a new type of solar panel that uses a thermophotovoltaic system — i.e. a way of converting all solar energy into heat which in turn produces an electric current.

The apparent breakthrough comes in the development of a “two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal” which allows the absorption of sunlight from a wide range of angles, eliminating the need for a complex sun-tracking system to follow the sun throughout the day.

More from the press release:

“In addition, the absorption characteristics can be controlled with great precision: The material is made from a collection of nanocavities, and “you can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” Chou says.”

“Another key characteristic of the new material, Chou says, is that it is well matched to existing manufacturing technology. “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current … techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales,” Chou says — up to 12 inches on a side. Earlier lab demonstrations of similar systems could only produce devices a few centimeters on a side with expensive metal substrates, so were not suitable for scaling up to commercial production, he says.”

Chou estimates it could take five years to bring this new type of cell to market.