Do you know how energy is produced by solar panels? Of course you do! It comes from the sun – the most reliable source of energy on planet Earth.

But the specifics of this process have recently led scientists to look twice at how we capture that energy, and specifically, how we can improve solar technology to produce even more.

For starters, light emits electromagnetic energy of different wavelengths. The colors we see, from violet to red, are part of that “visual light” spectrum of electromagnetic energy. Simple, right? This is the spectrum of energy used by solar panels to harness power from the sun and convert it into electrical outputs.

However, there is more to electromagnetic energy than what we can see; most notably, ultraviolet and infrared light waves. If the sun emits these as well as visible light, shouldn’t solar panels capture that energy too?

That was the hope of researchers at The Ohio State University Center for Chemical and Biophysical Dynamics, and this week, they found their answer. For the first time ever, a single molecule has been developed to absorb energy from the entire spectrum of sunlight.

While this is fantastic news for solar energy, it doesn’t stop there. It turns out this new molecule is also an effective catalyst in the conversion of clean energy to hydrogen.

In the world of renewable energy, hydrogen energy conversion is the white whale scientific pursuits. Earth’s second most plentiful resource is water, and with two parts hydrogen in H2O, researchers have sought ways to store energy-rich hydrogen molecules in fuel cells. Interestingly enough, a large critique of solar energy is in its inefficient means to store all that energy.

If the conversion of the entire light spectrum can simultaneously convert its energy into a hydrogen-based storage, the solar industry would skyrocket past its already lofty expectations for the 2020s.

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