Baldo team creates novel solar concentrator to harness energy

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July 10, 2008

Organic solar concentrators collect and focus different colors of sunlight. Solar cells can be attached to the edges of the plates. By collecting light over their full surface and concentrating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area of solar cells and consequently, the cost of solar power. Stacking multiple concentrators allows the optimization of solar cells at each wavelength, increasing the overall power output.  Photo / Donna Coveney

Marc A. Baldo, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT has reported in the June 11, 2008 issue of Science a novel solar concentrator that promises to enable the use of 'solar windows' that will not only let sunlight in, but will efficiently harness the solar energy for use as electric energy.

Unlike earlier solar panels made in the 1970s and today's typical solar concentrators that involve large mobile mirrors and expensive infrastructure to track the sun and even cool the mirrors, the Baldo team's concentrators take advantage of current expertise in optical techniques to absorb sunlight and re-emit and transport it at different wavelengths to the perimeters of a simple flat surface. At the edges of this panel, solar cells are then able to convert it to electricity. The Baldo team was able to make a tenfold increase in the amount of power converted by the solar cells (over what was attempted in the 1970s) by building in a greater level of control over light absorption and emission through use of a mixture of specific light sensitive dyes applied to the panel (glass) surface.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation. Prof. Baldo is also affiliated with the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, all at MIT.

Baldo's team members include EECS graduate students Michael Currie, Jon Mapel and Timothy Heidel, and Shalom Goffri, a postdoctoral student in RLE. Covalent Solar, a new company started by Mapel, Currie and Goffri to develop and commercialize the new technology, won two prizes in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition this year.

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