Fiber Optics to Help Boost Solar Efficiency

Energy Focus said Friday it won a $1 million contract to help develop high-efficiency solar cells.

Advertisement The contract is with a team of scientists, led by DuPont and the University of Delaware, who have formed a consortium to develop solar cells that can convert 50 percent of the sunlight that hits them into electricity, up from an average of about 20 percent today.

The goal also is to make these cells affordable and producible in large volumes.

The team, called the DuPont-University of Delaware Very High Efficiency Solar Cell Consortium, in 2005 received more than $12 million in initial funding for a three-year project from the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Agency Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The program could total up to $100 million, according to a DuPont statement.

Energy Focus, previously named Fiberstars, makes fiber-optic lighting. By combining fiber optics and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), Energy Focus says its Efficient Fiber Optics line lasts up to 20 times as long as traditional incandescent and halogen lights and uses up to 80 percent less energy. The lights also use up to 60 percent less energy than regular LED lights, the company claims.

Using fiber-optic lines, Energy Focus also can pipe light from one bulb to up to eight different places without losing brightness along the way, CEO John Davenport said earlier this year. That has come in handy in U.S. Navy ships, where climbing ladders to change bulbs can be dangerous.

Now, the company hopes to direct its fiber-optic technology into solar power.

In a worldwide shortage of solar-grade silicon, a number of companies are developing technologies that use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight into tiny solar cells, potentially slashing costs.

But one challenge has been the need to track the sun as it moves across the sky. Instead of moving the solar concentrators to capture the sun, the company wants to use fiber-optic cables to move the sunlight to the cells.

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