"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Windows could generate solar energy

Oct. 11, 2012
Courtesy of the American Chemical Society
and World Science staff

A new type of trans­par­ent so­lar cell is a step to­ward mak­ing win­dows able to gen­er­ate elec­tri­city while still let­ting peo­ple to see out­side, re­search­ers say.

The de­vel­op­ment is re­ported in the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­e­ty re­search jour­nal ACS Nano. It’s al­so de­scribed in the lat­est ep­i­sode of the so­ci­ety’s Glob­al Chal­lenges/Chem­istry So­lu­tions pod­cast, availa­ble free at iTunes and here.

The re­search­ers, with the Cal­i­for­nia NanoSys­tems In­sti­tute and the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, say there has been in­tense world-wide in­ter­est in so-called pol­y­mer so­lar cells, which are made from plas­tic-like ma­te­ri­als. A so­lar cell is a de­vice that con­verts the sun’s en­er­gy in­to elec­tric cur­rent.

Pol­y­mer so­lar cells are light­weight, flex­i­ble and can be pro­duced in high vol­ume cheap­ly, ac­cord­ing to the sci­en­tists. Re­search­ers al­so have been in­ter­ested in mak­ing them trans­par­ent, but pre­vi­ous trans­par­ent de­signs have had many dis­ad­van­tages, which the team set out to cor­rect.

The sci­en­tists de­scribe a new kind of flat, pol­y­mer so­lar cell that they’ve de­vel­oped that pro­duces en­er­gy by ab­sorb­ing mainly in­fra­red light, not vis­i­ble light, mak­ing the cells 66 per­cent trans­par­ent to the eye. They made the de­vice from a pho­to­ac­tive plas­tic that con­verts in­fra­red light in­to an elec­trical cur­rent.

An­oth­er break­through is the trans­par­ent con­duc­tor, which re­places the opaque met­al elec­trode used in the past, the re­search­ers say, sug­gest­ing the pan­els could be used in win­dows or porta­ble elec­tron­ics.

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A new type of transparent solar cell is a step toward making windows able to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside, researchers say. The development is reported in the American Chemical Society research journal ACS Nano. It’s also described in the latest episode of the society’s Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions podcast series, available free at iTunes and from www.acs.org/globalchallenges. The researchers, with the California NanoSystems Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles, say there has been intense world-wide interest in so-called polymer solar cells, which are made from plastic-like materials. A solar cell is a device that converts the sun’s energy into electric current. Polymer solar cells are lightweight, flexible and can be produced in high volume cheaply, according to the scientists. Researchers also have been interested in making them transparent, but previous transparent designs have had many disadvantages, which the team set out to correct. The scientists describe a new kind of flat, polymer solar cell that they’ve developed that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells 66 percent transparent to the eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current. Another breakthrough is the transparent conductor, which replaces the opaque metal electrode used in the past, the researchers say, suggesting the panels could be used in windows or portable electronics.