Sydney: Using what they call the world’s first 3-D solar panel system, scientists in the US have created photovoltaic cells that work underground.
According to a report in ABC Science, the breakthrough is taking solar panels off the roofs of homes and cars, and moving them under the house and into the walls.
The new panels could unobtrusively provide solar power while simultaneously protecting the delicate photovoltaics.
“No one wants to buy a big, nice, fancy car with a huge solar panel on the roof,” said Dr Zhong Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.
Instead of using traditional solar panels, the system captures sunlight and turns it into electricity using fibre optics cables coated with zinc oxide, the same white compound lifeguards slather on their noses.
The fibre optic cables, each one two to three times the width of a human, would be installed on the roof of a house, car or any other structure.
Only the very tip of the cables would be exposed to the outside environment.
Light enters the tip of the fibre and travels to the end. The light is absorbed and turned into electrical energy along the way.
Once the light reaches the end of the fibre, it bounces back, giving the zinc oxide another chance to absorb any light missed during the first pass. The fibres can be cut to any length depending on the needs of the user. A 10-centimeter fibre would conservatively generate about 0.5 volts.
Although the fibres are small, they aren’t particularly efficient. Right now, they convert about 3.3 percent of all the light that enters them into electricity.
Wang thinks that further work could get his number up to 8 percent.