Professor Federico Rosei and his team at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Quebec demonstrated that applying a thin film of metallic oxide significantly boosts the performance of solar panel cells.
    
The researchers led by Riad Nechache have developed a new class of materials comprising elements such as bismuth, iron, chromium, and oxygen.
    
These 'multiferroic' materials absorb solar radiation and possess unique electrical and magnetic properties.
    
This makes them highly promising for solar technology, and also potentially useful in devices like electronic sensors and flash memory drives, researchers said.
    
The team discovered that by changing the conditions under which a thin film of these materials is applied, the wavelengths of light that are absorbed can be controlled.
    
A triple-layer coating of these materials barely 200 nanometres thick captures different wavelengths of light.     

This coating converts much more light into electricity than previous trials conducted with a single layer of the same material.
    
"With a conversion efficiency of 8.1 percent reported by Nechache and his coauthors, this is a major breakthrough in the field," researchers said.
    
The team currently envisions adding this coating to traditional single-crystal silicon solar cells.
    
They believe it could increase maximum solar efficiency by 18 percent to 24 percent while also boosting cell longevity.
    
As this technology draws on a simplified structure and processes, as well as abundant and stable materials, new photovoltaic (PV) cells will be more powerful and cost less.
    
The study was published in the journal Nature Photonics.

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