The University of Copenhagen’s Martin Aagesen has discovered a nano-sized crystalline structure said to absorb all incoming light. The University of Copenhagen issued a press release of five paragraphs that has been picked up and republished dozens of not hundreds of times worldwide. The interesting thing is while there is a hope that these nano-sized crystals will be effective solar collectors, not one crystal is reported to have made any watts. Just to grasp what all the excitement is about, without the $18.00 fee payable to Nature’s web site for the paper published in Nature’s Nanotechnology, is a challenge.

Meanwhile Aagesen has set up a company, SunFlake, to pursue the transition from a nano-sized solar light collector to nano-sized photovoltaic collector. These are quite different things. While all that light is collecting in the nano flake the energy must be stored in some fashion. The challenge is to exchange the photons into freed electrons.

The available photovoltaic collectors on the market today are based in silicon chip technology. The press release offers that Aagensen can reduce production costs as his flakes would use less silicium. This leads to the elementary question; will it be possible to grow the crystals with silicon added to the growth medium followed by a crystal that then makes the photon to electron transition? Then can all those crystal structures be connected to get the electrons flowing out?

If I seem suspicious, its because the press release is one of the most effective examples in recent memory. Then there is the problem of a Nature publication. Nature enjoys high prestige with the mass media and the general population, while in fact the performance there can be sorely lacking across a range of issues from fact checking, attitudes towards papers in fields of the unknown, and a leadership role that offends the scientific principle of testing hypotheses until the facts are understood or proven. Nature publication triggers a little suspicion, in many ways Nature has left scientific publication to subtlety join the mass media.

After looking through several google pages, there are some tidbits to consider. The flakes are formed from indium arsinide, tightly packed on a low cost base material acting to conduct the electrical discharge of the flakes.   The Danish newspaper, the Berlingske Tidende says the flakes are arranged sitting so close together that the sun light cannot slip out once in the matrix of the flakes. They quote Mr. Aagesen “We know that the nano-flakes are very effective to absorb the light. We also, know how we manage to convert the solar energy into current. Now we are absent just to do it in practice. And I expect that we may have the first cell lucid in the start of the New Year. We have need too much less material than with the existing technology. That contributes to hold the costs down. At the same time, we can use cheap materials of bad quality, because it is the nano-flakes on the material’s surface, which do the whole work with absorbing the sunlight. Today it’s necessary to use silicon of high quality, which helps to raise the price of the solar cells.”

Now for a little reality checking. Solar radiation ranges from the very long “red” wavelengths in the not visible light range on into the visible red to blue and then beyond into radiation that goes up to the dangerous high-energy area of short x-ray and gamma sized waves. Along with these wave comes the photons. Aagesen is reported and quoted that “all light” is captured and if he means the visible spectrum and the all the available photons can be captured and a percentage transformed then there is cause to hope he can engineer an economical photovoltaic collector. Perhaps some of the hype is based on translation inaccuracies. In any case, if his first generation prototype comes in at 30% efficient at a cost projection that makes economic sense, the photovoltaic business has another contender in the race to cost effective photovoltaic power. The University of Copenhagen has set up a strong wing behind Mr. Aagesen. I hope it doesn’t blow back on him.


3 Comments so far

  1. Nano Flake Solar Collector Checked Out | Solar Panels Blog on December 19, 2007 2:18 PM

    […] Original post by News and Views for Making and Saving Money in New Energy and Fuel […]

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