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By generating multiple electrons from high-energy photons, solar cells made of silicon nanocrystals could theoretically convert more than 40 percent of the energy in light into electrical power, says Arthur Nozik, a senior research fellow at NREL. In contrast, today's flat rooftop solar panels are at best just over 20 percent efficient and are theoretically limited to about 30 percent efficiency. Concentrating sunlight with mirrors or lenses could raise that figure to about 40 percent, but the same approach could boost the efficiency of a silicon-nanocrystal solar cell to well over 60 percent, Nozik says.
What's more, solar cells made of silicon nanocrystals could prove to be cheap, giving them a significant advantage over other approaches to high-efficiency solar cells.