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[Image above] Credit: ARPA-E; YouTube

Despite significant increases in the use of solar technologies of late, solar is still one largely untapped resource. Research has shown there’s plenty of solar energy available to power the world’s energy needs—it’s a just a matter of efficiently harvesting, storing, and using that energy that poses a challenge to human innovation.

In addition to slews of developments to improve the efficiency of solar cells, we humans have innovated other technologies for collecting the sun’s power, including concentrated solar power facilities that use mirrors to concentrate rays and falling particle receivers that heat ceramic particles to store energy.

So what if we could combine some of those technologies to more efficiently harness the sun’s awesome power?

An ARPA-E program called Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS) is doing just that with its efforts to combine photovoltaic and concentrated solar power into one uber-efficient solar system.

The program supports scientists working on novel solutions to generate such hybrid systems, which dually utilize the same collected sunlight to generate electricity and heat.

Standard concentrated solar power systems use vast arrays of mirrors to reflect all of the sun’s rays, concentrating the energy on a focal point to heat an energy storage material.

But one FOCUS-supported research group at Arizona State University is rethinking such systems, ditching the mirrors for a dichroic optical film instead, according to a recent ARPA-E news story.

The Arizona State team’s PVMirror is a hybrid system that uses the dichroic film to split sunlight—a portion travels through the film and hits silicon solar cells that lie beneath the film, generating electricity within the cells.

The rest of the sunlight is reflected off the film, where it is concentrated to heat an energy storage material.

The system more thoroughly utilizes the full spectrum of sunlight, the researchers explain in the ARPA-E video below. Check it out to learn more about the FOCUS program and the PVMirror tech.

Credit: ARPA-E; YouTube