Most solar cells used in homes and industry are made using thick layers of material to absorb sunlight, but have been limited in the past by relatively high costs. Many new, lower cost designs are limited as their layer of light-absorbing material is too thin to extract enough energy.
In new research, scientists have demonstrated that the efficiency of all solar panel designs could be improved by up to 22 per cent by covering their surface with aluminium studs that bend and trap light inside the absorbing layer.
At the microscopic level, the studs make the solar panels look similar to the interlocking LEGO building bricks played with by children across the world.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports by scientists from Imperial College London and international collaborators in Belgium, China and Japan.
“In recent years both the efficiency and cost of commercial solar panels have improved but they remain expensive compared to fossil fuels. As the absorbing material alone can make up half the cost of a solar panel our aim has been to reduce to a minimum the amount that is needed,” said lead author Dr Nicholas Hylton from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London.