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Using Blu-ray discs to improve solar cell technology

Forget commentaries or deleted scenes; a new special feature found within Blu-ray discs unleashes the power to harness the sun.

Researchers from Northwestern University, in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the way data was written to Blu-ray discs — a high-definition format for movies, television and other video — made it perfect for improving solar cell technology. Using a Blu-ray copy of the 1992 Jackie Chan film “Police Story 3: Supercop,” the team was able to increase the efficiency of how much energy solar panels can absorb.

Researchers first used the pattern from a Blu-ray copy of the Jackie Chan film "Supercop" to test efficiency

Researchers first used the pattern from a Blu-ray copy of the Jackie Chan film “Supercop” to test efficiency

Solar panels perform more efficiently when sunlight is spread evenly over the cells’ surface, allowing for more equal exposure. Normally, expensive, pre-made fabrications using “quasi-random nanostructures” are used to diffuse the sunlight to achieve maximum efficiency. However, upon study, the surface of the Blu-ray disc, burned with islands and pits containing binary data — ones and zeroes — were found to be a more optimal pattern for achieving this effect.

And it’s not just Jackie Chan movies that work — imprinting solar cells with the patterns from any Blu-ray disc can increase the efficiency.

“We had a hunch that Blu-ray discs might work for improving solar cells, and, to our delight, we found the existing patterns are already very good,” said Jiaxing Huang, lead author of the study. “It’s as if electrical engineers and computer scientists developing the Blu-ray technology have been subconsciously doing our jobs, too.”

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