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Garbor warns that it will be some time before solar systems based on carbon nanotubes become commercially available, however. Cranking up the manufacturing process will be the first challenge.
Currently, a large furnace has to be used to grow the carbon nanotubes, while the circuits they are wired into are etched in layers onto a base material, using a combination of light and corrosive chemicals.
"If we can scale the process up to production levels and show that this effect can be demonstrated in macroscopic solar cells, our work will have significant impact," said Garbor.
Randeep Singh, a mechanical engineer from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research, believes many hurdles will need to be overcome before carbon nanotubes replace conventional silicon cells.
"Cost and performance are the two major factors in the choice of solar cell materials for which silicon provides the most optimum balance with its natural availability, mature fabrication techniques and
acceptable efficiency," he said.
"Other materials and cell designs with higher efficiency are available but not commercially viable. Any newcomers will need to break these frontiers to replace silicon," he added.