Carbon Nanotubes Might Be the Secret Boost Solar Energy Has Been Looking For

Solar panels are an incredible innovation
in energy tech, but they’re way less efficient than they could be, because they have a problem:
heat. Specifically, waste heat, or energy that’s
lost while converting the sun’s energy into electricity. But a new technology—made possible by carbon
nanotubes—may be just the thing that brings solar panels into the lead for energy technologies. Which would be sweet. In brief, a solar panel works like this: the
solar cell is made of a semiconducting material, like silicon, that’s had some other, differently-charged
elements added to create an internal electric field. When photons from the sun bounce down and
hit the solar panel, they knock electrons off the silicon atoms, and those electrons
can then be pulled into an external circuit as electricity. So there ya go, sunshine into power. But not all of the sun’s rays that touch
a solar panel get turned into electricity, and this is because not all light is created
equal. Electromagnetic radiation, of which visible
light is a part, is a spectrum of many different wavelengths, and only certain-wavelength photons
carry the right amount of energy to knock electrons loose. For the rest of the wavelengths that can’t
displace electrons, that energy is lost, unable to be used in a solar panel to generate electricity. We can actually lose about 70% of the electromagnetic
radiation that hits a solar cell because of this mismatch in energy levels! This is one of the biggest issues facing solar
panel efficiency. And this, paired with other long-standing
problems—like the resistance that electrons face when passing through conducting materials—makes scientists think that in the future, even with improvements to the existing tech, we’re looking at a maximum, peak efficiency of solar panels at 29%. Which still seems pretty low, to be honest. I mean come on, sunlight is free—surely
something can be done about this. Well, one rescuer comes in a surprisingly
tiny package. Researchers at Rice University are adding a film of carbon nanotubes. When looking at why solar panels lose so much
energy, the researchers behind this new tech saw that the radiation from the sun that couldn’t
be absorbed by the solar panels was bouncing off as heat… and they wanted to harness
it. But how to turn that heat into electricity? Thermal radiation, like the kind released by solar cells is broadband— which is kinda messy. Converting sunlight into electricity is only
efficient if the emissions are in a pretty narrow band, nice and precise. So the researchers created wafer-thin films
of carbon nanotubes that can absorb that broadband waste heat and channel it into narrow bandwidth
photons that can be easily converted to electricity. So instead of going from heat to electricity,
the nanotube film makes the conversion process more efficient by taking that energy from
heat to light to electricity. Nanotube film is a perfect material for this
because it can withstand temperatures up to 1,700 degrees Celsius, so it’s not going
to buckle under the heat. And this is huge. It doesn’t require a change to the fundamental
makeup of solar panels, so its minimally disruptive to existing solar infrastructure. And the researchers say that their tech could
theoretically increase the efficiency of solar panels from that measly 29% efficiency maximum….all
the way up to 80%. We live in a world where we’re gravitating
more and more towards renewable energy, and we NEED to. But solar energy, this hugely untapped energetic
resource, currently only produces around 2% of the world’s electricity. Potentially huge leaps in solar panel efficiency
could make so much more of the sun’s energy available for use. The project is still in the prototyping phase
and is a ways out from being used in existing technologies, but if its promises come to
fruition… it could change the way we think about the future of our energy grid, and how efficiently we can power the world with clean energy. Big news. If you want even more on how solar panels
are adapting into the future, check out this video over here on solar cells powered by bacteria. And subscribe to Seeker for energy tech updates as they break. Let us know what other energy developments
you’d like to see us cover down in the comments below and as always, thanks for watching.

100 Replies to “Carbon Nanotubes Might Be the Secret Boost Solar Energy Has Been Looking For”

  1. I wonder about combing this with transparent aluminum? It is roughly as hard as sapphire, good light transmission, and the roughly the same thermal transmission properties of regular aluminum. A scratch resistant, strong, thermal resistant panel sounds like a winner to me. While transparent aluminum is expensive now, the same old answers apply. Mass production makes things cost effective.

  2. Okay now add micro windmills to the carbon nanotubes and build a carbon nanotube structure around the micro windmills.

  3. If the 80% target is actually reached, it would need to be complemented by an accessible market price and an effective and cost effective electricity storage solution. The sun does not shine throughout the day or throughout the year, so energy buffering is need. The beauty of such system (if they eventually make it to the mass market) is that they could potentially disconnect low storey houses from the power grid. I'm not sure this would be a practical solution for high rise.

  4. Hi, this not related to the above topic. Is it safe to eat pork when the pig die recently of ASF (african swine fever)? Thanks.

  5. We are struggling to make nanotube based transistors….
    Exciting but way More research is needed and it's not coming anytime soon.




  9. At what percent efficiency do solar panels become an absolute game changer? (like how efficient must a solar panel be to make solar cars a reality)

  10. Could the tech be used to generate power from waste heat from spacecrafts so that they don't have to shed as much via radiators?

  11. Yeah sounds great but its pie in the sky until they figure out how to scale it up in manufacturing.. it always seems to be 'just a few years' out.. been hearing that for a long long time.

  12. The greatest challenge to solar technology is that power demand is lowest when the sun is brightest and highest when the suns down. Any solar replacement on a major scale needs battery backups otherwise it cannot replace fossil fuels as those power plants have to be used when the sun is down.

  13. Why collect Energy from the Sun when you can convert Solar Energy that has been Naturally Collected and Condensed for us already?

  14. At 2:08 in the video, those are not photovoltaic cells, that is called a solar troff and it focuses light at a pipe filled with a combustible oil that then releases heat into water which turns a turbine. Really cool technology just not what your reporting on. I just figure you might want to make the correction.

  15. These guys have been long on promises. Maybe one day soon they'll deliver:

  16. I getting "burned" out on hearing about Nano Tube's. Been watching videos and reading about then for 10+ years. It's about time they are used for something…

  17. 1:17 "We actually lose about 70% of electromagnetic radiation that hits a solar cell…".
    1:37 "…make scientists think that in the future, even with improvements to the existing tech, we are looking at a maximum peak efficiency of solar panels at 29%…".

    So if we improve existing tech we'll make it 1% worse? Did I miss something? 🙄

  18. The proces of growing CNT (carbon nanotubes) it self is not that difficult but scale it to the mass production is simply impossible. Its like saying "we can save the world" if we use the most precious material in the world that can absorb 100% light but there is only 10 kg in the whole world of it. Also the most important is the economical decision: Should I buy CNT film for 100$ that will give me extra 5% or… should I buy another panel for 100$ that will give me another 100%. Ofc there are some cases where the CNT film is huge, where you cant add another panels.

  19. Speaking of wasted light… there was a distinct green cast coming off the anti-reflective coating of your glasses. I have not noticed this in prior videos so I wonder if the lighting setup might have been moved to be more "in your face" than before.

  20. This is cool but until we see breakthroughs in long term energy storage (ie batteries) we will never get away from oil and gas…

  21. Wait, the problem with solar panels is HEAT?? I thought it was the fact that the sun doesn't shine but half the day and clouds are still a thing…

  22. This is the biggest problem with First World solutions for First World problems: ridiculously long development and regulatory processes. If it's a viable enough solution, just start alpha/beta testing with customers who sign agreements not to file lawsuits if the tech doesn't meet expectations. Companies need to work with customers to get adequate support with feedback and upgrades. At least get real world results and raise enough awareness (and excitement) to get public acceptance.

  23. Current solar panels create heat islands. Your hand would be burnt immediately if you touched a solar panel at mid day. They are the hottest infrared absorber of any infrastructure including asphalt.
    If trees existed in lieu of solar panels, the Earth would be much cooler at those locations.

  24. Three things come into my mind immediately:

    1. How are you making sure all the wasted heat is transferred to the nanotube?
    2. How is it possible to turn heat into photon that efficiently? (29% to 80%, this is violation of thermodynamics! Can you stop those garbage claims?)
    3. How can you make sure all the photon regenerated can be effectively guided back to the grid?

  25. Solar is a joke at 20-40 cents per kilowatt hour and an intermittent source of energy. Let me know when they're down to like 1 cent per kilowatt, then we'll talk.

  26. There is a company in Colorado that is building a plant to manufacture a solar panel that uses Nanotube Technology and Graphene. I have seen the plant and they are definitely putting it together. The panel is going to be 12" by 18" and can out produce a 6' by 4' silicon panel. Nanotech Engineering Inc. I just saw the plant but they are serious, with serious machines.

  27. Did I blink while the explanation of how carbon nanotubes convert heat into light – that is, turn broadband photons into narrowband photons – was given? The PM article linked to in the description also fails to mention how this is done.

  28. Turning that thermal energy into useable energy is easy and doesn't require something as far fetched as carbon nanotubes. It only requires a sterling motor (look it up), a generator, some water, and some copper tubing.

  29. The utilities will fight any significant improvement to solar efficiency to keep it from ever reaching the market. Only NASA and large corporations will be able to afford it.

  30. #SwitchToSolar #SwitchToElectric

    Everyone raise your right hand and promise to never again purchase an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle or tool.

    We should all be using electric vehicles charged from our home, business and covered parking rooftop solar arrays making nearly everything we do 100% solar powered including charging our vehicles. Everyone should be getting proposals from 3+ local solar PV installers and suggesting the same for our places of work, our grocery stores, our movie theater parking lots, and everywhere else.

    The cost per distance driven is ridiculously cheap when you are your own solar fuel station (less than $0.01 USD per mile)! #nobrainer

    We cannot afford to continue to burn fossil fuels!

  31. We still power everything by steam… 200 yr old technology. Every house on the PLANET should have solar and no wires or bills! I Blame the Greedy.

  32. This is a lot less relevant than you might think. Until real estate becomes the limiting factor in solar power there may be nothing to gain from this technology. What matters now is economic efficiency.

  33. I want to see you cover L.I.F.T.E.R. nuclear reactors this is the only viable solution to clean energy. why do I say this, go listen to the latest TED talks and realize we live on a molten ball with only a thin crust floting top. Many times in the past disasters have struck that have blotted out the sun for years at a time. solar is not a viable base load alternative. On top of all this look at Germany they have the most solar and the highest rates by far for electric, because the burden of the cost of base load generation has been shifted of on to the shoulders of the poor who can not afford solar. please get your heads right. we must get away from fossil fuels Solar is not the way.

  34. Noob here, I have a question.
    Where do the knocked out electrons come from?
    I mean if fhey are knocked out of the material the amount should be very limited?

  35. Explain in Detail how that heat is converted into electricity 2.34 till 2.40 went completely over my head very disappointed with your recent vedios the explanation is too bad

  36. If it is knocking electrons off of silicon atoms, why isn't semiconductor losing its mass? How is silicon atom gaining back its lost electron? Also why is silicon atom not ionized when it loses electron?

  37. No. Solar and wind aren't the answer, you need to clear whole plots of land of all vegetation and animals on top of many other issues. Solar panels have such harmful chemicals once they are disposed of since there is no proper disposal of these chemicals they seep into the ground. Nuclear fission provides far more energy 24/7 and the waste it does produce is safely stored until it degrades into regular trash or when we figure out how to do it a different way. Nuclear is the solution

  38. This Maren, science for good, the thing is that i see many material in the internet about renewals and it is no sexy, i don't mean to put on the red lights i mean inspiration from the buena honda you are the kind of girl to inspirate us to go on with the things that are good for earth.

  39. Not SOLAR ENERGY, but FUSION ,in addition to already present NUCLEAR FISSION ENERGY. RENEWABLES shall always be least dense and least CONVENIENT SOURCE of ENERGY, when it comes to creating ENORMOUS AMOUNTS of ENERGY within MINIMAL SPREAD of INFRASTRUCTURE. In future, maybe it would become VIABLE to produce SUBSTANTIAL amounts of ANTIMATTER easily, THEN MATTER -ANTIMATTER reaction shall be used to PRODUCE MAXIMUM ENERGY OUTPUT what HUMANS can think or UTILISE. RENEWABLES shall never become PRIMARY sources, they shall always remain COMPLIMENTARY SOURCES of ENERGY.

  40. YES, SOLAR ENERGY is UNDOUBTEDLY VERY LARGELY USABLE, BUT being TOTALLY DEPENDENT on SOLAR ENERGY is not FEASIBLE and also POSE serious PROBLEMS. FOR EX -WEATHER PHENOMENONS can GET DISTURBED as, The heat reflected from The LAND and SEA (which you call as WASTE HEAT), actually it is not so. When The heat is REFLECTED back from LAND and SEAS (UPON being heated by SUN'S RAYS) that HEAT is only, eventually DISTRIBUTED into The ATMOSPHERE in order to FORM/CHANGE WEATHER and largely CLIMATE of everywhere on The PLANET. IF NO SUNLIGHT FALLS on GROUND or SEA (instead it is absorbed by PHOTOVOLTAICS with 95% or more EFFICIENCY.. say..) then LAND and SEA shall not heated by SOLAR RAYS .AS a RESULT, there shall not OCCUR TEMPRATURE differences and CONSEQUENTLY WIND BLOWING shall become LESS and BOTH WIND and RAIN PATTERN shall become VERY complex and UNPREDICTABLE (as AIR itself is a bad CONDUCTOR of heat) .IN cold days, The SUNLIGHT is already too low in RADIATION ENERGY already ,USING SOLAR PANELS on TOP of that would INCREASE The COLD more. It is to be understood PROPERLY that ATMOSPHERE takes ENERGY only from The "REFLECTED/RETURNED BACK" HEAT ENERGY Of The SUN from The heated LAND and SEA on Earth's surface, and NEVER DIRECTLY by The INCOMING SOLAR RADIATION from SPACE!!!!. THIS FACT shouldn't be OVERLOOKED.

  41. SECONDLY, The LIGHT which is required for PHOTOSYNTHESIS orocess(WETHER at LAND or in SEA) and which is an INEVITABLE REQUIREMENT for almost all BIOLOGICAL life forms on EARTH,shall be USED in SOLAR CELLS. AS these SOLAR CELLS shall be SPREAD almost everywhere on EARTH, these shall highly OBSTRUCT The LIGHT AVAILIABILITY required for PHOTOSYNTHESIS by PLANTS, almost anywhere at LAND or in OCEANS. THUS it shall POSE a SERIOUS CHALLENGE to BIOLOGICAL FOOD(BIOMASS) production and AVAILABILITY.

  42. THIRD, as The EFFICIENCY if The SOLAR CELL mentioned is very high, unlike that of PHOTOSYNTHESIZING PLANTS (which have solar energy efficiency of only about 5-10%) ,also these plants ALWAYS RESPIRE, so these PLANTS almost behave as LAND MASS (reflecting back most solar radiation as heat) only keeping NEGLIGIBLE AMOUNTS as BIOMASS. IF in their PLACE ,THOSE SOLAR CELLS are INSTALLED EVERYWHER, then it shall behave as LIGHT and ENERGY ABSORBER almost completely as a PERFECT BLACK BODY to be converted to ELECTRICITY for all HUMAN NEEDS(wether this energy is ultimately released by humans back as heat by TRANSFORMATIONS again while using, or this energy gets stored in some manner or The other for permanent) IN any case this shall Result in SLOWING down of WEATHER and CLIMATE FUNCTIONING(as very less energy would remain available in The atmosphere For weather and CLIMATE CYCLES to function. CONSEQUENTLY this would have a PROFOUNDLY DEADLY IMPACT on GEOLOGICAL,METEOROLOGICAL and ULTIMATELY BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES and PATTERNS. TEMPRATURES ,HUMIDITY LEVEL, WIND SPEED ,ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE shall change very FRQUENTLY or VERY SLOWLY or may even NOT AT ALL. A COMPLETE DISASTER. HENCE SOLAR CELLS with LESS EFFICIENCY, can thus only be USED.(which would behave, almost like plants, and not cause BIG, DISRUPTIVE and CASCADINGLY DAMAGING EFFECTS to EARTH'S systems at a LARGE SCALE.)


  44. LARGE SCALE SOLAR ENERGY USAGE THUS can POTENTIALLY cause MORE GREVIOUS CLIMATE CHANGE /DESTRUCTION, than anyone ,anywhere on The EARTH could have suffered /known or even IMAGINED of.

  45. This video made me curious. What is the albedo of a solar panel compared to the albedo of the surface it is typically placed over? This may be a non-question.
    The incident infrared energy is trapped in the atmosphere whether it is first absorbed by an object or not. The solar panel has little effect on the albedo whether it reflects the infrared, absorbs the infrared as heat or produces electricity from it. The incident energy of the UV spectrum is relatively small so the characteristics of the solar panel compared to the surface beneath it is probably immaterial. The first answer to my question is that the solar panel is not impacting the albedo, so panel the world. We've got lots of sand.

    So far as boosting the efficiency of the existing solar panels I can see merit in that, as well. My wife and I own a home that we heat primarily with a mini-split heat pump, and we charge an EV. We have max'd out the roof with solar panels and are still required to purchase a fair percentage of our electricity from the grid. Solar panels that are even 25% efficient would be more than enough to make us net zero in consumption. We could also probably afford to heat our house a bit more than we do.

    I started writing this an hour or so ago and pessimistic that there was great value in increasing the efficiency of a solar panel unless it reduced the cost per kilowatt. My own situation shows that it could be worth a small premium. For mobile applications, of course, it would be worth a substantially higher premium. Now where are those mobile applications?

  46. Innovation is not necessary because yes, there are contradictions that it is essential that no interest created cover up and stop the processes necessary for the well-being of all mankind, innovation if things are objectively analyzed, I mean to identify that it is necessary not only renewable energy, but a whole friendly sustainable industrial process With the environment, this is a great opportunity for new jobs, new areas, new markets,

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