Minneapolis, MN (KROC-AM News) - The University of Minnesota is reporting a significant advance in solar energy research.

U of M researchers, working with researchers at the University of Milano-Bicoccca in Italy, have developed a new technology that allows them to embed silicon nanoparticles into a material that can be used as window glass. The advance means they can create efficient luminescent solar concentrators that trap the useful frequencies of light and concentrates them to the edges where small solar cells can capture the energy.

University of Minnesota researcher Samantha Ehrenberg uses a plasma reactor to create silicon nanoparticles that are the key ingredient in the solar concentrators.
Photo credit: Patrick O'Leary, University of Minnesota

Until recently, efforts to create windows that can collect solar energy used toxic or rare elements to create complex nanostructures. The U of M research, which has been published in Nature Photonics, notes the new technology uses silicon nanoparticles created from a material that is both abundant in the environment and non-toxic.

“In our lab, we ‘trick’ nature by shrinking the dimension of silicon crystals to a few nanometers, that is about one ten-thousandths of the diameter of human hair,” said University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Uwe Kortshagen, inventor of the process for creating silicon nanoparticles and one of the senior authors of the study. “At this size, silicon’s properties change and it becomes an efficient light emitter, with the important property not to re-absorb its own luminescence. This is the key feature that makes silicon nanoparticles ideally suited for LSC applications.”

The researchers say the new technology should clear the way for the manufacture of efficient solar windows, which holds the promise of capturing the sun’s energy at lower costs.

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