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IBM scientists are using a large lens to capture the sun's power, generating a record 230 watts onto a centimetre square solar cell, in a technology known as concentrator photovoltaics, or CPV.
That energy is then converted into 70 watts of usable electrical power, about five times the electrical power density generated by typical cells using CPV technology in solar farms.
If it can overcome additional challenges to move this project from the lab, IBM believes it can significantly reduce the cost of a typical CPV-based system.
By using a much lower number of photovoltaic cells in a solar farm and concentrating more light onto each cell using larger lenses, IBM's system enables a significant cost advantage in terms of a lesser number of total components.
The trick lies in IBM's ability to cool the tiny solar cell. Concentrating so much power on a small area generates enough heat to melt stainless steel, something the researchers experienced first-hand in their experiments.
But by borrowing innovations from its own R&D in cooling computer chips, the IBM team was able to cool the solar cell from more than 1,600ºC to just 85ºC.