The Future Of Solar Cells Is Becoming Literally Clear

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Thanks to Michigan State University's Richard Lunt and Yimu Zhao, the next wave of solar cells could replace your car and home windows.

The new material uses small organic molecules to absorb non-visible wavelengths from sunlight. ”Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt, who developed the material, told MSU.

transparent luminescent solar concentrator module The Future Of Solar Cells Is Becoming Literally Clear

Image taken by Yimu Zhao of her discovery, the credit for which she shares with Richard Lunt

The organic molecules work in such a way that, if it was not scientifically testable, you might mistake it for magic. ”We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” said Lunt.

The ‘glowing’ infrared light travels to the edge of the plastic where thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells convert it to electricity. The technology is still in the early stages of development, but the potential for its use are wide-ranging and incredibly flexible.

““It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

The material’s current solar conversion efficiency is only 1%, with an estimated potential of up to 5%. To give you an idea of the potential, the highest efficiency of colored solar LSC, or Large Solar Concentration, is 7%. While there is a 2% drop in maximum efficiency there, the new transparent material can be used to cover more area, as its transparency opens up a world of use.

MSU is not alone in the quest for clear solar panels either. Two years ago UCLA created a clear solar cell that boasted a whopping 4% conversion efficiency, but little has been heard of the project since.

As with any significant scientific endeavor, it’s likely that it will be at least several years until we see the implementation of widely used clear solar cells, though the potential for clean solar energy is abundantly clear – literally and figuratively. With electricity currently being produced through coal burning and hydroelectric plants, buildings covered in solar panels producing their own energy could well change the course of human history. How soon this leap into the future will happen is impossible to tell, but these recent advancements are certainly ideal.

What do you think about the potential for clear solar panels? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or visit our GEEK Facebook page.

Images: MSU, Yimu Zhao

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