Scientist Myles Steiner has announced that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has set a new world record at 31.1 percent for a two-junction solar cell. The research team at NREL beat Alta Devices` previous record by 0.3 percent.

The new solar cell consists of a layer of gallium indium phosphide on a gallium arsenide cell. Bilayer anti-reflective coating sits on the top of the cell and a reflective gold contact layer is attached to the bottom. In other words, far more costly materials than what we currently use in the highest-efficiency crystalline-based solar panels.

NREL’s latest chart of best research-cell efficiencies (up-to-date with the new world record) can be found here.

The new record will likely be beaten in short time. NREL is determined to get closer to the 48 percent efficiency goal set by the U.S. Department of Energy`s F-PACE project.

Although the solar market is currently dominated by different types of crystalline silicon (90 percent), scientists see a lot of opportunity in other materials. Multi-junction solar cells are currently the preferred type of solar cell for applications in space. High efficiency goes hand-in-hand with space-efficiency (surface) and is therefore of higher importance than costs.

There`s a lot of things happening in the solar industry nowadays. Recently Sharp announced that they have created the most efficient solar cell to date, with an incredible 44.4 percent efficiency rate.

Whether or not we will ever see multi-junction solar cells in widespread use here on earth remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to follow NREL as they get closer and closer to 48 percent, and keep pushing the threshold of what is possible with photovoltaic technology.