Energy giant BP plc and the California Institute of Technology have teamed up in a research program that will develop a new type of solar-cell technology called nanorods.
In the five-year, multi-million dollar program, BP (London) and Caltech (Pasadena, Calif.) will explore a concept based on growing silicon by creating arrays of nanorods, as opposed to the more convention method of casting ingots and cutting wafers.
Nanorods are small cylinders of silicon said to be 100 times smaller than a human hair. A solar cell based on an array of nanorods will be able to absorb light along the length of the rods by collecting the electricity generated by sunlight more efficiently than a conventional solar cell, according to claims made by BP and Caltech.
The program will also investigate uses of nanotechnology to create designer solar cell materials — such as nanorods and nanowires — in order to change the conventional paradigm for solar cell materials.
Not long ago, solar energy was considered a niche market. Now, solar-cell vendors are scrambling to expand their capacities to meet huge demand from homes and businesses worldwide. Companies that have recently announced new and massive solar-cell production plants include Energy Conversion Devices, Evergreen Solar, Sharp, SunPower and Suntech.
Indeed, solar is here today, but the technology is at about three times the cost of conventionally generated electricity However, thanks to advances in conventional and thin-film technologies, some believe that the cost of solar will be on par with that of conventional electricity within 10 years.