At a glance, 3D printing and solar technology should go hand in hand. However, the current applications are somewhat limited.
Sure, there are 3D printed housings and different form factors, but so far no one has used 3D printing technology to change the heart of the process – the solar cell. Well, that’s just changed.
A Dutch team has developed a way to enhance the efficiency of solar cells, allowing them to produce more energy.
The secret behind the Dutch discovery is the creation of “light traps”. Essentially, these are light concentrators that help boost the strength of light waves within the solar cell.
The team works out of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, and the light traps are completely 3D printed.
The immediate upshot of the light trap design is that cells can now harness more sunlight than was previously possible, and optimize output. Solar cells (and entire panels made from a collection of cells) will eventually come down in price thanks to the enhanced efficiency and power production.
The problem with most solar cells is that they actually reflect about 20% of the sunlight that enters them, rather than absorbing it. By using light traps, the Dutch team was able to redirect that light back toward the cell itself, rather than allowing it to reflect back out.
According to the team, “These retro-reflections enable higher absorbance and improved power conversion efficiency. We fabricated 3D printed external light traps with a square, hexagonal and circular compound parabolic concentrator to test their suitability for concentrator arrays.
The 3D printed traps were placed on top of an organic solar cell, which resulted in a significant enhancement of the external quantum efficiency.”
The inclusion of light traps allows the solar cell to capture 100% of the light that enters it, increasing efficiency by 20%. When scaled into commercial applications, this would allow the creation of smaller solar panels that still offered outstanding efficiency and power generation, thus reducing the overall costs.
It would also reduce the footprint for solar installations, both in commercial and residential applications.
The Dutch team points out that this is not the first time this has been attempted, but the previous tries did not have the benefit of 3D printing. Interestingly, they indicate that 3D printing was the perfect solution.
It also proved to be the ideal tool for creating various different shapes and sizes of traps for testing purposes, allowing the team to easily and quickly create a variety of different options that would have taken far, far longer to design and manufacture with other methods.
3D printing will be a core method for the future of solar technology, and the Dutch team’s success is just one more example of how this innovative solution can be applied to the betterment of all humanity.