Munich (Germany) – Solar cells remains one of the most fascinating and promising research areas these days. Scientists at the German Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (ISE) recently announced that they've developed a solar cell capable of providing 41.1% efficiency, which is the highest level achieved to date. They are now working to make the technology commercially available.
The new solar cell is an evolution in Fraunhofer’s metamorphous solar cell research, which has been in place since 1999. The research is focused on combinations of semiconductor materials, in this case it's GaInP / GaInAs / Ge (Gallium-Indium-Phosphid / Gallium-Indium-Arsenide / Germanium). In 1999, the scientists discovered that these materials are well-suited for converting sunlight into electricity, and today it seems their long effort is paying off.
Over the years, the research group at Fraunhofer has been working on methods to better align the material and its cell structure with spectrum received from sunlight on the surface of our planet. What makes this newly developed solar cell special is that the scientists were able to identify and correct defective areas within the non-electrical crystaline portion of the solar cell, thus creating a much more efficient cell; one that can be created virtually free from defects.
Fraunhofer's new solar cell. At 454x normal sunlight concentration, it achieved 41.1% efficiency.
A 5mm2 solar cell (Ga0.35In0.65P / Ga0.83In0.17As) built with this new material and knowledge was exposed to a concentration of sunlight 454x times normal. It achieved an efficiency of 41.1%, and at 880x normal sunlight intensity, it achieved a 40.4% efficiency. What is even more noteworthy though, is the fact that Fraunhofer is already working with Azur Space and Concentrix Solar to implement their technology into "competitive" commercial products. The researchers did not say how long it will take until the cells are available.
However, we did hear that it is unlikely mainstream consumers will be able to buy this technology and install it at home anytime soon. When available, these will be a fairly expensive solar cells that are likely to be used in large-scale photovoltaic systems as well as solar power plants - at least initially.