See-through solar collector developed

November 8th, 2017 / By: / EcoNote

“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” said Richard Lunt, researcher and associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU). Photo: Kurt Stepnitz/MSU.

Scientists associated with Michigan State University (MSU) report that transparent solar materials applied to windows could capture as much power as rooftop solar units. According to information from MSU, the scientists believe that using transparent solar applications, together with the rooftop units, could nearly meet U.S. electricity demand and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

“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,” said Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. Lunt and colleagues developed a luminescent transparent solar concentrator that can be placed on clear surfaces to create solar energy without disrupting the view.

The solar-harvesting system uses organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. The researchers can “tune” these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths that then convert this energy into electricity.

Currently, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential, according to Lunt. “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.”

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Dept. of Education. The scientists reported their findings in Nature Energy. Lunt’s coauthors are Christopher Traverse, a doctoral student in engineering at MSU, and Richa Pandey and Miles Barr with Ubiquitous Energy Inc., a company Lunt co-founded with Barr to commercialize transparent solar technologies.