A research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a low-cost solar concentration system that it says could double the efficiency of photovoltaic systems.

A colored dye absorbs sunlight as it hits the glass on MIT’s flat collector. The dye re-emits the light at a longer wavelength, which then becomes trapped and guided through the glass to the edges, where photovoltaic cells collect the energy. “This gives us a very high concentration factor,” says team leader Marc Baldo. “We collect light over a very large area, but we only need a very small area of solar cells around the edges to generate the electricity.”

MIT’s development is still in the early stages of testing, but a concentrating solar collector that doesn’t need to track the sun would open new territory for high-efficiency solar systems, especially residential flat-panel installations.

According to Baldo, the concentrating collectors will be twice as efficient as typical photovoltaic collectors, which means you could double the power generated over the same area or use half the area to produce the same power as traditional systems would require.

“We think these are going to be fairly inexpensive to make,” Baldo says. “The dye is a very common car paint and is extremely inexpensive.”

In addition, “It should be fairly easy to make because it’s very tolerant of defects,” he predicts.

Baldo’s team members Michael Currie, Jon Mapel, and Shalom Goffri have formed Covalent Solar to commercialize the technology, which could reach the market in about three years.