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Researchers Are Turning Windows into Green-Energy Farms with See-Through Solar Panels

Written by Louise Bevan / The Epoch Times / 8 March 2019

Solars panels, while a game-changing feat of engineering, have historically been—depending on your aesthetic preferences—a bit of an eyesore. But this is changing since researchers from Michigan State University have developed see-through solar panels. Completely transparent. Think windows. These ingenious panels will be able to provide numerous functions in future architectural design, not to mention other fields such as mobile phone technology, and cars.

The see-through cells can be used on buildings, mobile phones, and even cars

The American inventor Charles Fritts created the first commercial solar panel way back in 1881, describing it himself as “continuous, constant and of considerable force.” But the panels were somewhat inefficient: the design was perfected for commercial use in 1939 by American engineer Russell Ohl, who created the solar cell design that we have become familiar with today.

The Michigan State University research team, already having an engineering formula that worked, focused on transparency instead. What they came up with has been termed a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator,” or TLSC, which can function as a coating over clear surfaces like windows, harvesting solar energy without affecting the function of the window to let in light.

Dr. Richard Lunt leads the Michigan State University research team

The technology employs organic molecules, which function on a light wavelength not visible to the human eye. Dr. Richard Lunt is the assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU’s College of Engineering, and he explained in more detail: “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. The captured light is transported to the contour of the panel,” he continued, “where it is converted to electricity with the help of thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.”

TLSC could make a huge impact on energy efficiency

The design is ideal for use in architecture. As more solar energy can be harvested from the larger surface area of a building’s facade, as opposed to its rooftop, TLSC could make a huge energy impact on tall buildings. Especially glass ones. TLSC does not affect the overall look of the building or compromise the focus of the architectural design, but lends the benefits of a hyper-efficient energy technology to existing properties. TLSC can also be integrated into old buildings.

The New York Times reported favorably on the new technology: “If the cells can be made long-lasting, they could be integrated into windows relatively cheaply, as much of the cost of conventional photovoltaics is not from the solar cell itself, but the materials it is mounted on, like aluminum and glass,” they wrote. “Coating existing structures with solar cells would eliminate some of this material cost.”

The university team’s ongoing research is funded by the Center for Excitonics

Boasting a triple whammy of appealing characteristics— being transparent, impactful, and cost effective—the TLSC transparent cells could change the face of solar power completely. And if they prove commercially viable, Dr. Lunt continued, the power they generate could “significantly offset the energy use of large buildings.” The university research team has received funding from the Center for Excitonics, an Energy Frontier Research Center financed by the Department of Energy, to continue their innovative research into the energy-producing efficiency of the transparent cells. Dr. Lunt believes that some basic modifications, such as stacking the cells, could increase TLSC efficiency from 1 percent to around 10 percent.

Dr. Lunt’s excitement reflects that of the team at large. “We’re not saying we could power the whole building,” he clarified, “but we are talking about a significant amount of energy, enough for things like lighting and powering everyday electronics.”

The future is looking clearer and clearer.

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