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UT Austin Researchers Behind Major Solar Cell Advance

Materials researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, along with cohorts at the University of Minnesota, have made a major advance in the efficiency of solar cells, according to the latest issue of the journal Science. The teams said that their research has boosted the efficiency of solar cells to 60 percent, up from what was thought to be the limit of only 30 percent. The research could be key to dramatically improving the efficiency of solar panels. The research was led by Xiaoyang Zhu, a professor of chemistry at UT Austin, who is in charge of the school's Center for Materials Chemistry.

According to the researchers, they have determined a way to use semiconductor nanocrystals, or "quantum dots", to improve the efficiency of conventional solar cells. The research revolves around "hot electrons"--solar energy which currently becomes heat and cannot be turned into usable electricity.

The current research is being conducted on quantum dots manufactured from lead selenide, but the researchers say the technology can be applied to other materials. The researchers have not said how far they are from making the technique practical for commercial products, and also said they need to do further research on connecting energy generated from their cells to electrical conducting wire. Currently, the technique apparently results in the loss of those electrons in the wire as heat.