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>Something previously exclusive to science fiction, may be entering center stage. Quantum dots (or semi-conductor nanocrystals) could lead to the next big breakthrough for solar technology. Xiaoyang Zhu (a chemist at the University of Texas) is studying quantum dots, which could increase maximum theoretical efficiency of solar cells from about 31 percent to as high as 66 percent. Quantum dots can capture high energy or “hot” electrons that are normally lost as heat in traditional silicon solar cells.

A solar panel with the higher efficiency this technology promises has myriad applications. Solar panels on a conventional car roof could run accessories, like air conditioning, eliminating the need to tap engine power and increasing fuel efficiency. For hybrids, it could be used to help charge the battery or with EVs, extending range on the fly and making them much more practical.