New Solar Cell Efficiency Record Could Redefine Future UAVs

Published: 02 May 2016 | Author: Caroline Rees

Solar-Powered UAV

Alta Devices, a developer of solar power technologies, has announced that it has achieved a new record of 31.6% efficiency in its solar cell technology.

This breakthrough, combined with the cell’s thinness and flexibility, will redefine how solar technology can be used, in particular in the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) market. The increased power-to-weight ratio of Alta’s technology enables different possibilities for an aircraft using this technology.

As an example, on a typical HALE (high altitude long endurance) UAV aircraft, Alta claims that its solar material requires less than half of the surface area and weighs one-fourth as much while providing the same amount of power as competing thin film technologies. These savings open UAV designers to a variety of alternative design options. Additional batteries can be installed on the vehicle, providing longer operational life spans and flight times than originally considered. Alternatively, payload functionality can be tailored for higher speed or longer distance wireless communications. Either of these design optimizations translate into a considerable increase in economic value to the aircraft operator.

“Our goal has always been to enable solar power to be useful in configurations and applications that have never before been possible,” said Rich Kapusta, Alta Devices Chief Marketing Officer. “The UAV application is an important example of how this happens.”

Alta Devices also provides solar technology for a variety of other applications including wearable devices and the internet of things (IoT) in order to eliminate the need for battery replacement or recharging.

Solar efficiency is measured and certified by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). According to NREL’s testing, Alta Device’s new dual-junction solar cell is the world’s most efficient 1-sun cell at 31.6% efficiency. This is the seventh overall solar efficiency record that Alta Device has set since 2010.

Alta has achieved this breakthrough by modifying its basic “single-junction” gallium arsenide (GaAs) material. The company’s dual junction technology builds on the basic GaAs approach, but implements a second junction (or layer) with Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP). Because InGaP uses high-energy photons more efficiently, the new dual-junction cell generates more electricity from the same amount of light than a single-junction device. With this breakthrough, Alta currently holds both the dual-junction and single-junction records at 31.6% and 28.8%, respectively.

Alta Devices is currently shipping its single-junction technology in production.

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