A novel fabrication technique developed by the University of Connecticut – UConn could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve today’s solar energy systems.The technology would be a vast improvement over the silicon solar panels. Even the best silicon panels collect only about 20 percent of available solar radiation, and separate mechanisms are needed to convert the stored energy to usable electricity for the commercial power grid. The panels’ limited efficiency and expensive development costs have been two of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of solar power as a practical replacement for traditional fossil fuels.
But while nanosized antennas have shown promise in theory, scientists have lacked the technology required to construct and test them. The fabrication process is immensely challenging. The nano-antennas – known as “rectennas” because of their ability to both absorb and rectify solar energy from alternating current to direct current – must be capable of operating at the speed of visible light and be built in such a way that their core pair of electrodes is a mere 1 or 2 nanometers apart, a distance of approximately one millionth of a millimeter. Nanosized antenna arrays are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power.
The potential breakthrough lies in a novel fabrication process called selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD) that was developed by Willis, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UConn. Willis developed the ALD process while teaching at the University of Delaware, and patented the technique in 2011.