The sun emits 50 percent of its energy as “near-infrared” light, however solar cells only harvest visible light.
Taking this into account, it makes sense that top of the line commercial panels can only convert approximately 20 percent of solar energy to electricity.
In order to “upconvert” infrared energy into much more useful visible light, and make solar panels upwards of 30 percent more efficient, researchers from UC Riverside came up with an idea.
By combining semiconductors with organic molecules, the team created a material that basically helped them “reshape the solar spectrum,” according to lead researcher Christopher Bardeen.
Finding a practical way to take two infrared photons and combining them to create a single visible photon has been difficult to do.
That is, until now…
Incredibly, the UC Riverside team managed to convert infrared light into orange/yellow light, nearly doubling the energy of the original photons.
“The (semiconductor) absorbs two (infrared) photons and passes their energy on to an organic compound for combination. The organic compounds then produce one high-energy (visible) photon,” explains Barden.
The team essentially figured out how to absorb light from photovoltaic cells that would have otherwise been wasted, representing a huge development in the future of solar energy.