Michigan State scientists develop transparent solar cell technology

"Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications," researcher Richard Lunt said.
By Brooks Hays  |  Oct. 23, 2017 at 5:11 PM
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Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers at Michigan State have developed transparent solar cell technology that could be used to make power-generating windows.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Energy, the team of engineers argue their technology can replace or supplement rooftop solar units.

The technology consists of a thin film of organic molecules that absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. These ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths can then be converted into electricity. The device, called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, can be installed on the windows of buildings, a car's windshield or even on the screen of a phone.

"Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications," Richard Lunt, an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU, said in a news release. "We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics."

Scientists have previously described and demonstrated their technology. Their new paper, published Monday, is a call-to-arms of sorts, describing the potential to integrate transparent luminescent solar concentrators into modern infrastructure.

Scientists estimate there are 5 billion to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States. If renewable energy production is to meet the demands of American consumers, the researchers say creative solutions, like the installation of transparent solar cells, are essential.

If all the glass in the United States was outfitted with transparent solar cells, the harvested energy would be enough to meet 40 percent of Americans' electricity demands.

Coupled with traditional rooftop installations and solar energy, the combination could produce nearly as much electricity as traditional energy sources.

"The complimentary deployment of both technologies could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage," Lunt said.

The best opaque solar panels reach efficiency rates of between 15 and 18 percent. Transparent solar cells achieve efficiencies at just above 5 percent. But scientists believe the technology can eventually register efficiencies closer to traditional panels.

"That is what we are working towards," Lunt said. "Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible."

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