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Blu-ray disc helps researchers improve solar panels’ efficiency

Got a big physical media collection? This is news you can use.


Alex La Ferla


Researchers at Northwestern University have finally found the perfect use for Police Story 3: Supercop on Blu-ray. No, the correct answer is not “using it as a frisbee” or “playing a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time Jackie Chan does some badass karate move,” although these are acceptable alternate uses for the title. Instead, these geniuses have found a way to coax a 22% efficiency gain out of solar panels by using a mold of the nanopatterns found on Blu-ray discs.

The use of Blu-rays to increase photovoltaic output sounds crazy, but it’s actually a creative solution to a pretty simple problem. Today’s photovoltaics are not as efficient as they could be, because a large amount of the light they are exposed to bounces right off their surfaces, similar to how evil-doers are repelled by Jackie Chan’s sick moves.


The Northwestern scientists peeled off the top layer of super thin plastic found on their copy of Police Story 3 (yes, they actually seem to have used this specific title, but it works with all Blu-rays) and exposed the quasi-random photonic nanostructures below. This surface, which is optimized for data storage, also happens to perform extremely well at catching the sun’s light. A mold of the pattern was then taken and applied to the solar panels.

There are still kinks to be worked out with the technology, but if it catches on, it won’t just improve solar panel efficiency—it might save Blu-ray discs from total obsolescence. 

Photo via demmbatz/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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