Professor Arie Zaban, head of the university's Nanotechnology Institute, had already developed a method of using metallic wires mounted on conductive glass to form the basis of solar cells.
This method produces electricity with an efficiency similar to that of conventional silicon-based cells, but which are much cheaper to produce.
Professor Zaban has now expanded this concept by developing a solar cell measuring 10cm x 10cm, which is 100 times bigger than the original 1cm x 1cm cells.
The scientist reckons that this dramatic increase in surface area will significantly boost the cells' usefulness in technologies that seek to produce commercial amounts of solar power.
"Initially, we created linked arrays of very small cells which led to a loss of efficiency because the sunlight hitting the space between the cells was not converted to electricity," explained Professor Zaban.
"Our new design offers 10 times more surface area, which means that more of the array is actively capturing the Sun's energy. This makes our new cell a practical choice for solar energy production."
The research has also found a way reducing the cost of solar panels by economising on the use of platinum, a highly reactive metal which is embedded on the glass cell's surface and forms an important part of its operation.
"We have found a way to produce platinum nanodots, tiny crystals measuring only a few nanometres in diameter. Thanks to this technique, we reduce the amount of platinum needed by a factor of 40," said Professor Zaban.
The new solar cells should become commercially available within the next five years, and the combination of better efficiency and lower cost should make them a viable and compelling alternative to fossil fuels.
"We have to make the basic infrastructure extremely affordable because the third-world countries that stand to benefit the most from solar power usually lack the money to invest in it," said Professor Zaban.
"By making cells more efficient and keeping material costs down, nano-based techniques are moving us closer to that goal."
Boffin boosts solar cell size 100-fold
Staff Writer on Jan 9, 2008 2:51PM