Even with incremental advances in solar cell efficiency, burning fossil fuels is still a cheaper way to make electricity.
The National Science Foundation on Thursday handed out a $100,000 grant to a start-up called Bloo Solar that wants to use nanotechnology to vastly improve solar cell output and catch up traditional power sources.
Bloo has yet to release its product or raise any other funding apart from the NSF grant. But it claims that its design will result in electricity that is cheaper than the power derived from fossil fuels.
Researchers and commercial companies like Nanosolar are using nanotechnology, where materials are manipulated on a microscopic level, to improve cell efficiency and lower manufacturing costs.
Right now, the efficiency of converting light to electricity in typical silicon rooftop panels is in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent. Using lenses to concentrate light, researchers have topped 40 percent on the most expensive solar cell material. Thin-film cells, which use different materials, are around 10 percent efficiency and lower, although lower manufacturing costs can make them competitive with silicon cells.