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New plastic can better convert solar energy

18 May 2005 News

Researchers at the University of Toronto have invented an infrared-sensitive material claimed to be about five times more efficient at turning the sun's power into electrical energy than current methods. Also, the plastic composite material could be sprayed onto other materials and used as portable electricity.

The discovery could lead to shirts and sweaters capable of recharging cellphones and other wireless devices, said Ted Sargent, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto.

Minute particles called quantum dots, three to four nanometres across, are combined with a polymer to make a plastic that can detect energy in the infrared spectrum. Although not visible to the naked eye, infrared energy contains a huge untapped resource of energy. The plastic can be applied much like paint is applied to a wall and can convert up to 30% of the sun's power into usable, electrical energy, according to Sargent.

Today's best plastic solar cells convert only about 6%.





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