While inventors three times his age are struggling with the constant effort to improve solar cell efficiency, one 12-year-old boy may have found the holy grail. Others improve current solar cell efficiency by 30 percent or forty percent, but young William Yuan, 12, has blasted that away with an efficiency improvement of an astounding 500 percent!
This seventh grader in Oregon titled his project: "A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light," and it may well change the energy industry by making solar energy far easier to harness and distribute.
At the heart of Yuan's project is a special solar cell that can harness both visible and ultraviolet light. Most solar cells in use today are either photovoltaic, meaning they harness only visible light, or thermal. While visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light are all heavily scattered or absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, ultraviolet light comes in at shorter wavelengths and with higher energy than both visible and infrared light. Ultraviolet light can provide more energy to a collector than other, longer-wavelength members of the electromagnetic spectrum.The two keys to Yuan's solar cells' efficiency are that they're engineered to stand freely in three dimensions which allows them to collect more light, and secondly, that they make use of carbon nanotubes, allowing the cell to distribute the energy it collects without dissipating as much as traditional cells do.
Yuan is looking for a manufacturer to invest in building his new solar cell, and likely won't have any problem finding a partner. Though he was encouraged in his research from his middle school science teacher, this is no mere school science experiment: the Davidson Institute For Talent Development has awarded Yuan a $25,000 scholarship for his research.