necro81 writes: IEEE Spectrum magazine has a feature article describing DARPA-funded work towards developing a solar cell that's 50% efficient, for a finished module that's 40% efficient — suitable for charging a soldier's gadgets in the field. Conventional silicon and thin-film PV tech can hit cell efficiencies of upwards of 20%, with finished modules hovering in the teens. Triple-junction cells can top 40%, but are expensive to produce and not practical in most applications. Current work by the Very High Efficiency Solar Cell program uses optics (dichroic films) to concentrate incoming sunlight by 20-200x, and split it into constituent spectra, which fall on many small solar cells of different chemistries, each tuned to maximize the conversion of different wavelengths.
necro81 writes: Researchers at the University of Missouri and the Idaho National Laboratory have demonstrated a new method of capturing solar power. Rather than using semiconductors to capture photons of sunlight, they fabricated small coiled antennae (several um square) that resonate with the wave nature of light. The antennae are tuned towards midrange infrared light (5-10 um), which is abundant on our cozy-warm Earth — even at night. They also demonstrated a way to imprint these coils on a substrate, like how CDs or vinyl records are produced, but could be scaled to roll-to-roll mass production. The usual caveat applies: it may be 5-10 years until this could hit the market.