Sheets of silicon nanoshells created by a team in California could lead to ultra-thin solar panels that are cheaper and easier to mass-produce than those currently available.

Conventional solar panels absorb light using relatively thick layers of nanocrystalline silicon that can be time-consuming to manufacture. Yi Cui and his colleagues at Stanford University manufactured spherical, hollow silicon shells using standard chemical techniques and deposited them on a sheet (pictured). Light captured by the material was reflected many times inside the shells, increasing the amount of energy the sheet absorbed.

The team found that a 50-nanometre-thick layer of shells was as efficient as a 1-micrometre-thick sheet of conventional silicon.

Nature Commun. 3, 664 (2012)