The economic viability of a flexible solar technology in development at the University of Queensland has received a boost as researchers recorded 16.6% efficiency, up from a previous record of 13.4%.

The solution relies on nanoparticles called “quantum dots”, which pass electrons between one another and generate electrical current when exposed to solar energy in a solar cell device.

Professor Lianzhou Wang, who led the breakthrough, said conventional solar technologies used rigid, expensive materials.

“The new class of quantum dots the university has developed are flexible and printable,” he said.

“This opens up a huge range of potential applications, including the possibility to use it as a transparent skin to power cars, planes, homes and wearable technology.”

Professor Wang’s team set the world record for quantum dot solar cell efficiency by overcoming previous challenges around the fact that the surface of quantum dots tend to be rough and unstable – making them less efficient at converting solar into electrical current.

“This new generation of quantum dots is compatible with more affordable and large-scale printable technologies,” Professor Wang said.

The improvement in efficiency brings the PV solution closer to being commercially viable,” he said.

The work was funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Programs in collaboration with a number of colleagues both in Australian and overseas.

Professor Wang is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow based in the School of Chemical Engineering at the university’s Faculty of Engineering, Architecture, and Information Technology and Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.