IBM uses liquid metal to boost solar-cell efficiency

IBM uses liquid metal to boost solar-cell efficiency

Summary: The company's tech increases the power of the sun's rays by a factor of 10, using liquid metal to transfer the resulting heat from solar cells

TOPICS: Processors

Computing giant IBM is in the process of developing technology that generates solar power more efficiently, aided by a liquid-metal cooling process.

IBM's system concentrates sunlight on a 1cm2 photovoltaic cell using a large lens, in a similar method to using a magnifying glass to start a fire. IBM claims the concentration increases the power of the sun's rays by a factor of 10, allowing cells that normally generate 20W of power to generate 200W instead.

One of IBM's magnifying lenses

One of the problems the technology's researchers had to overcome was how to avoid destroying the cells with the concentrated sunlight. In experiments, the researchers managed to melt stainless steel with the magnifying apparatus, so had to work out how to cool the solar cell efficiently.

Between the cell and a cooling block is a thin layer of liquid metal that conducts heat away from the solar cell to the cooling block. IBM researchers used a mixture of two metals with low melting points: gallium, a semiconductor, and indium, which is used in low-melting-point alloys. IBM already uses this technology to cool high-power chips.

IBM said that solar energy could be used to generate power on a commercial scale, provided that low-cost, efficient lenses could be developed.

"Concentrator-based photovoltaics can offer the lowest-cost solar electricity for large-scale power generation, provided the temperature of the cells can be kept low, and cheap and efficient optics can be developed for concentrating the light to very high levels," said IBM in a statement on Friday.

IBM is also developing nanotechnology structures, involving nanowires and quantum dot semiconductors, to make photovoltaic cells more efficient.

The magnifying lens concentrates the sun's rays onto a photovoltaic cell, cooled with liquid metal

Topic: Processors

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Water is the source of life - treasure it! R4.

    Water is the source of life - treasure it! R4.
    Water is the source of all life on earth. It touches every area of our lives. Without it, we could not thrive
  • Concentrated Solar Power

    I fully agree with the writer that CSP can be only way out for us today. It can ensure us with clean drinking water and food security and can provide us with environment friendly source of energy. I wonder why our political, scientific and economic leadership is not quick to response.
  • A more efficient and cost effective renewable energy system is needed.

    A more efficient and cost effective renewable energy system is needed.
    To accelerate the implementation of renewable electric generation with added incentives and a FASTER PAYBACK - ROI. (A method of storing energy, would accelerate the use of renewable energy) A greater tax credit, accelerated depreciation, funding scientific research and pay as you save utility billing. (Reduce and or eliminates the tax on implementing energy efficiency, eliminate increase in Real estate Taxes for energy efficiency improvement).
    In California, you also have the impediment, that when there are an interruption of power supply by the Utility you the consumer cannot use your renewable energy system to provide power.
    In today's technology there is automatic switching equipment that would disconnect the consumer from the grid, which would permit renewable generation for the consumer even during power interruption.
    New competition for the world's limited oil and natural gas supplies is increasing global demand like never before. Reserves are dwindling. These and other factors are forcing energy prices to skyrocket here at home. It's affecting not just the fuel for our cars and homes, but it's driving up electricity costs, too. A new world is emerging. The energy decisions our nation makes today will have huge implications into the next century.

    A synchronous system with batteries allows the blending of a PV with grid power, but also offers the advantage of