Missouri Solar Breakthrough Needs Rectifier

Patrick Pinhero, a former Idaho researcher now at the University of Missouri, has put out a press release claiming he can get the efficiency of solar panels from the current 20 to 95 percent at a stroke through what he calls a nantenna.

This has some reporters screaming “solar superpower,” which is just what Pinhero wants them to say because he’s looking for money.

What he actually seems to have is little more than what he previously showed in Idaho, a thin film of nanowires which, while promising because they can be created using a printing method on gold foil, still has a long way to go to become commercial.

The problem in Idaho was the gold. Gold is a fine conductor, but at $1,500 per ounce it’s not useful in industrial applications.

The problem now is that while it may be able to get the power into the system, even accepting infrared light that bounces off the Earth after the Sun has set, you can’t make it useful because the waves oscillate trillions of times per second—convention AC power oscillates 60 times per second. Whether Pinhero has a working rectifier that can be scaled to industrial production is an open question—the press materials at this point are unclear.

If he has a complete invention—printed circuits using conventional materials that are 95 percent efficient and can be turned into usable power—then he has a history-making breakthrough. But right now, that’s a big if. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, and it would be wise for reporters to remember that.


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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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