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MIT exploited heat to make the most efficient solar cell yet

The new technique could double the amount of power generated from a given solar panel.
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DEA / S. BUONAMICI via Getty Images

Sorry, University of New South Wales: Your efforts at shattering the efficiency record for solar cells earlier this month have been, ahem, eclipsed. A group of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way to possibly break the maximum efficiency of a solar cell, the Shockley-Queisser Limit. The Shockley-Queisser tops off at around 32 percent, but that's taking standard solar cell setups into account. The MIT scientists switched it up and converted incoming sunlight to heat prior to having it generate electricity, a trick that could possibly double the power produced by a given panel.

These solar thermophotovoltaics (above) take light and pass it through an intermediary part comprised of nanophotonic crystals that outputs thermal radiation -- something that's otherwise wasted using typical means. From there, the radiation is converted to the best-possible light wavelengths, via an optical filter, that a normal solar cell can use.

The school says this method means that in the future, passing clouds or even total darkness (if a thermal storage system is in place) wouldn't affect the system's ability to gather and produce solar energy, respectively. And this is all with what the team refers to as "unoptimized geometry." Meaning, efficiency could go even higher than what was achieved during this experiment. Your day in the sun is over, UNSW.

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