An ultra-dark material developed in Saudi Arabia is no mere fashion statement: its ability to soak up the rays promises to boost solar-cell efficiency.

Silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have a maximum theoretical absorption capacity of about 30 percent, while in practice it tops out at about 26 percent. 

Fratalocchi is coy about progress, given the latest research has yet to be published, but suggested a solution was on its way. “It’s inexpensive; we just set up the process to manufacture it on large scales. It’s industry-ready,” he says.

The new material will be independently certified by a German agency, although the pandemic has slowed this process. “If this efficiency is higher than conventional solar material, it can become the standard for PV, because it’s already compatible with mass-production methods,” says Fratalocchi.

Enhancing solar panels is just one potential application for Fratalocchi’s nanomaterial. While he wouldn’t discuss others in detail due to confidentiality concerns, he did point to hydrogen as a possibility. If light could be more efficiently harvested and used to make hydrogen through hydrolysis, humanity could, at last, possess an inexpensive, abundant, and completely clean energy source. And, by then, the old black gold would be just a distant memory.

Read the whole interview on WIRED here