Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report that they have used carbon nanotubes to concentrate solar energy 100 times more efficiently than regular photovoltaic cells. The researchers, reporting in the journal Nature Materials, said that the nanotubes — hollow tubes of carbon atoms — could form antennas that effectively capture and focus light energy, which could lead to the production of smaller and more powerful solar arrays.
Michael Strano, the MIT chemical engineering professor who leads the research team, said the nanotubes — which he described as “solar funnels” — could be manufactured by the millions to form a fibrous rope 10 millionths of a meter long and four millionths of a meter thick. Strano said the nanotubes could be used in conjunction with semiconductors to generate electricity on extremely small surfaces. “Instead of having your whole roof be a photovoltaic cell, you could have little spots that were tiny photovoltaic cells, with (nanotube) antennas that would drive photons into them,” said Strano.