Wednesday, Apr 26th

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You are here: Technology Science A Crystal Ball Captures Solar Energy
Imagine a giant crystal ball capable of concentrating sunlight and moonlight, harnessing them and increasing solar cell energy efficiency by up to 10,000 times.

For many years scientists have been researching ways of obtaining more power from solar energy cells. Andre Broessel, a German-born architect based in Barcelona, Spain – who has loved playing with light since he was a child – made exciting new breakthroughs in solar energy, developing a spherical glass energy generator that’s said to improve solar panel cell efficiency by more than 35% in building integration.

The spherical glass orb, when filled with water, acts as a regular lens -but has unique features- concentrating diffusing daylight and moonlight – with the help of an optical tracking mechanism – into a solar cell from which electricity can be harvested. While he studied the airy disk center and transmissions he chose the full moon as a diaphragm to reduce the intensity of light. In fact moonlight is reflected sunlight. If you concentrate it you harvest energy.

“I started with a project in Germany, working with clients within my generation. We had a special situation – I was living in a house where we had very little sunlight and no panoramic view,” he explains, “I was playing with light in the sky, developing and discussing methods for renewable applications, by creating panoramic skylight, a concept of using a single-lens reflex camera.”

Broessel started his career late in life, attending the Dusseldorf University in Germany.  After, moving to Berlin he studied architecture and the flow of light. Berlin was an exciting city at that time, as the East and West were just integrating.

Even living in a big city, Broessel had a dream about taking his vision to another level. He decided to leave Germany and take on an experimental project in Barcelona, Spain. “I was already involved in technology, and Spain would allow my vision and imagination to grow,” Broessel said. “This big city gives you new input and new visions.”

At the time, Spain was filled with a lot of new projects in energy and power plants. For anyone interested in the field of solar energy, it was a good place to be. As an architect, Broessel always had a passion for renewable energy. During his time in Barcelona, he started learning more about light and how it travels through architectural structures.

That was his starting point. Broessel had the idea of working with special elements to help reduce the loss of light in reflective materials. Simply put, these complex materials have photovoltaic (PV) properties and the effect of using them, he describes, is the conversion of light into an electric current. “Photovoltaic” means electricity from light (photo = light; voltaic = electricity).

One way to visualize this is to think of light as a stream of photons, where each photon carries a quantum of energy. Each photon carrying energy is associated with one wave length frequency, like the visible spectrum of a rainbow, where every color has its own wave length and the frequencies are sometimes shorter or longer. When these frequencies of light enter a semiconductor, they produce a kind of band gap also known as an electrical field.

When sunlight is absorbed by these PV materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) into electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. 

“If you look further into it, we can play with the wave lengths and different materials that have the capacity to absorb light,” he said. “And then you will find out why they are producing multi-junction cells which are used in this type of process. Also known as high physics.”

Broessel argues that, depending on the material used and the frequency of the light passing through it during the absorption process, multi- junction cells can be created. More than one band gap and more than one junction are referred to as "multi-junction" cells. Multi-junction devices are capable of achieving higher total conversion efficiency because they can convert more of the energy spectrum of light to electricity. In simple terms, the design of Multi-Junction Cells is created to manage the wavelengths of light in staked layers.

Broessel said he has been studying photovoltaics in conjunction with architecture for more than 20 years. “My visions of architecture and light meshed hand in hand.” He explains, “I love to play with light and structures. The idea of life and nature reflects on everything that surrounds us.”

The minds of the great such as Albert Einstein and French physicist Edmund Bequerel, were thinking about light and electricity. Bequerl, in 1839, found that certain materials would produce small electric currents when exposed to light. And in 1905, Albert Einstein described the nature of light and the photoelectric effect on which photovoltaic technology is based, an effort for which he later won a Nobel prize in physics.

One of Broessel's goals in 2013 is his continued research on the spherical solar hybrid orb project. He continues to experiment with technology so complex, that no computer on earth can yet precisely simulate the solar hybrid orb biometrics, showing how light can be harnessed to produce enough electricity and thermal energy to power our cities.

Their experiments have already demonstrated how visible light can be trapped using fluids and internal coatings placed as parabolic reflectors to reach a maximum of spectrum energy, converting it while be exposed to any daily gamma irradiation conditions.

Rather than disrupting Mother Nature by building useless power plants, “It is our responsibility to reach out to more people and show them that the future of earth will rely on the people who destroy it,” Broessel said.

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