Mechanical engineers from the Arizona State University conducted studies using tiny graphite particles that are 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of human hair in the hopes of increasing the effectiveness of solar power collectors. They will also study the profitability of using the said material.
At present photovoltaic solar panels are commonly used across the globe but they are not the most efficient solar power solution around. One of the disadvantages that PV solar panels have is that they can only use a fraction of the sunlight that they absorb while the rest is turned into heat energy. This degrades the total performance of the said panels.
Instead of using photovoltaic solar panels, the researchers from the Arizona State University suggest using solar thermal collectors. There are several types of collectors that could be used such as panels, dishes, towers, and evacuated tubes. They collect heat that will be used to boil water, which in turn can be utilized to power a turbine to generate electricity.
To increase the effectiveness of the solar collectors, the researchers mixed nanoparticles into heat transfer oils that are typically used in solar thermal power plants. They selected graphite nanoparticles because of they are colored black, which makes them absorb more light from the sun. This property makes graphite the ideal material for heat collectors.
The researchers found out that the graphite nanoparticles increased the efficiency by 10 percent. When used on a 100 megawatt solar power plant, this would amount to an additional profit of $3.5 million a year.
Graphite nanoparticles are inexpensive. They are priced at less than $1 a gram. 100 grams of this material can be equal to the heat collecting surface area of an entire football field. The researchers also stated that in place of graphite nanoparticles, nanoparticles of soot can be used. These could be collected from coal power plants. That is converting a pollutant into something green that can be used to generate clean energy.
Improving solar power collection through the use of nanoparticles is not a new concept. In the past scientists were developing new solar cells by adding metal nanoparticles into the mix. They try to use all incoming light from the sun by coating a solar cell with a thin layer of metal nanoparticles that cause light to scatter.
Hopefully nanotechnology can be successfully incorporated into solar power applications. This could make solar power energy cheaper and more efficient.