U.S. Army researchers at the Redstone Arsenal have developed a new type of solar panel which they say is a significant breakthrough in solar energy production being much thinner, more efficient and cheaper than current panels.

Most current solar panel currently are made of pure silicon. The wavelength of light that can be absorbed and converted into electricity by silicon is exceedingly narrow compared to the full spectrum of light. By inserting layers of noble metals, such as silver and gold, between various semiconductor layers, the researchers have produced panels that use a far wider range of wavelengths.

The new panels generate the same amount of energy regardless of the angle that sunlight is striking them -eliminating the need for careful positioning or for expensive sun-traking mountings.

The added metal layers, also allow the panels to be tuned to reflect away the harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays.

Despite the extra layers, the new panels have a combined thickness of only a few hundred nanometers – about 1/1,000 th of the thickness of current panels. The reduced thickness will result in a savings in materials and cost.