A tiny antenna could revolutionize solar panels

One of the big problems with current solar cells is that they aren't able to absorb infrared light — which accounts for around a third of the solar energy that hits the planet. A new type of nanomaterial, a tiny antenna, could solve that problem and make our solar panels far more efficient.

Solar panels have what's known as a "bandgap", and any light below that threshold frequency just passes straight through, not generating any power. But the new technique embeds tiny little nanoantennae into the silicon of the panel, constructed of gold and titanium, and coated with tin oxide. When the infrared light hits the antenna, it generates a "hot electron," which jumps from the antenna into the silicon, creating a current.

The technology has the potential to go beyond just solar cells, and could potentially be used for photosensing, imaging, and light detection.