Solar panels are great, don't get me wrong, and the technology still has plenty of room to improve. But today, they still only capture about 20% of the energy coming from light...and there's a young, promising challenger on the horizon. The technology is called a nanoantenna skin. It can suck 92% of the energy from infrared light (in theoretical simulations, about 80% in early lab testing). And because it doesn't simply collect energy from the visible light spectrum, it even can harness the Earth's solar energy it stores during the day and radiates at night.
Nanoantennas are essentially gold coils manufactured to respond to a particular frequency of light, supported within a flexible polyurethane sheet. But these gold coils are stackable, allowing different types of coils to exploit more available light frequencies. Essentially, they are but miniature heatsinks that are very, very good at capturing the heat from light (or a variety of other heat-producing sources).
The only catch is that while the coils are excellent at trapping energy, we haven't figured out just how to translate that energy to a viable AC current (a process which will require other new materials). So until that day comes, we're still left buying our solar panels from IKEA. [eureka alert via DailyTech]