Alta Devices thin, efficient solar cell attracts aircraft designers

April 28, 2016
SUNNYVALE, Calif., 28 April 2016. Engineers of unmanned aircraft systems, also commonly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones, are showing significant interest in thin, flexible solar cell technology from Alta Devices in Sunnyvale, California.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., 28 April 2016. Engineers of unmanned aircraft systems, also commonly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones, are showing significant interest in thin, flexible solar cell technology from Alta Devices in Sunnyvale, California.

Alta Devices solar technology’s solar efficiency record of 31.6 percent, substantially higher than all other commercially available solar technologies, and its thinness and flexibility are redefining how solar technology can be used. In particular, UAS engineers are impressed with the increased power-to-weight ratio of Alta’s technology, which enables dramatically different possibilities for an aircraft using this technology versus any of the other solar power options, officials say.

As an example, on a typical high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft, Alta’s solar material requires less than half of the surface area and weighs one-fourth as much while providing the same amount of power as competing thin film technologies. These savings open up UAV designers to a variety of alternative design options.

Additional batteries can be installed on the vehicle, providing longer operational life spans and flight times than originally considered. Alternatively, payload functionality can be tailored for higher speed or longer distance wireless communications. Either of these design optimizations translate into a considerable increase in economic value to the aircraft operator.

“Our goal has always been to enable solar power to be useful in configurations and applications that have never before been possible,” says Rich Kapusta, Alta Devices chief marketing officer. “The UAV application is an important example of how this happens.”

Alta Devices also provides solar technology for a variety of other applications, including wearable devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), to eliminate the need for battery replacement or recharging.

Solar efficiency is measured and certified by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). According to NREL’s testing, Alta Devices’ new dual-junction solar cell is the world’s most efficient 1-sun cell at 31.6 percent efficiency. This is the seventh overall solar efficiency record that Alta Devices has set since 2010.

Alta has achieved this breakthrough by modifying its basic “single-junction” gallium arsenide (GaAs) material. The company’s dual junction technology builds on the basic GaAs approach, but implements a second junction (or layer) with Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP). Because InGaP uses high-energy photons more efficiently, the new dual-junction cell generates more electricity from the same amount of light than a single-junction device. With this breakthrough, Alta currently holds both the dual-junction and single-junction records at 31.6 and 28.8 percent, respectively.

Alta Devices is currently shipping its single-junction technology in production.

Alta Devices delivers efficient, thin, and flexible mobile power technology. By converting light of any kind into electricity, Alta Devices’ AnyLight power technology extends the energy source of a system, and in many cases, completely cuts the traditional power cord. The solution can be completely integrated into the final system, and is ideal for use in unmanned systems, consumer electronics, sensors, automotive, remote exploration, or anywhere size, weight, and mobility matter. Alta Devices holds world records for energy conversion efficiency and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif.

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