Researchers at UMaine’s Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST) are investigating the potential of nanoparticles to better harness the energy of the sun. Currently, solar panels typically capture only a fraction of the energy that potentially could be used because only certain wavelengths of the sun are utilized.
LASST Director Robert Lad is working with electrical and computer engineering professor Rosemary Smith and UMaine materials physicist Robert Meulenberg to study ways of making solar panels capture that wasted energy.
The research focuses on the creation of thin film coatings that fluoresce at different wavelengths. In solar panels, these thin films could increase the number of wavelengths captured from the sun, resulting in more energy production.
The research will lead to better understanding of how a nanoscale particle’s size, shape and surface affect the overall properties of a semiconductor. Solar panels are essentially large semiconductors because they directly convert light energy into electricity.
The UMaine researchers are collaborating with Ascendant Energy Co., in Rockland, Maine, which is designing a solar panel system for the newly remodeled Wells Dining Center on campus. By the end of this year, the technology is expected to provide electricity and hot water for a portion of the facility.
This past spring, Ascendant Energy received more than $575,000 from MTAF to help establish a Solar Center for Excellence: Advanced Photovoltaic Production Facility in Rockland. The university is a partner in the project, with a focus on technology transfer.