Imagine all the windows of the tall skyscrapers in the country generating electricity for its own? Well, it may one day happen well into the future as researchers working at Michigan State University (MSU) have developed a solar collector that is completely transparent. This means it could replace conventional glass used in windows and other transparent surfaces such as screens smartphones, vehicle glazing, and a lot more.
The device, dubbed as luminescent solar concentrators, can collect photons from the sun and turn any surface into solar electric generators.
Many experiments have already been done with transparent solar collectors and the results vary because while some succeeded, other failed – particularly in the inefficient production of energy. Apart from that, other produced solar concentrators were not transparent, brightly coloured or too darkly tinted.
According to Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU, “No one wants to sit behind coloured glasses. It makes for a very colourful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”
The difference of traditional solar panels and the transparent solar collectors is that their transparent counterparts use microscopic organic molecules created to absorb specific wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye. The light it collects is sent to the perimeter edge of the plastic where it is transformed into electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.
According to Lunt, because the materials don’t absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye. The research team still admits that this technology is still on its earliest stages but they have high hopes of scaling up to commercial level. The team also have a goal of reaching a 5 per cent efficiency rate. Right now, the best solar collectors reach up to 7 per cent.
Ultimately, the team wants to create a solar collector harvesting surfaces without people even knowing it’s there. These could be glazing on windows, smartphone screens, and even car windows. It can even be used on surfaces with transparent plastics. “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,” said Lunt.
Once the technology is made available to residential and commercial establishments, people can now collect power for their homes and gadgets easily. As long as the sun is shining, people can get free electricity. Soon, people will be asking how much replacement windows cost with this kind of transparent solar collector glazing.
At the moment, solar panels commonly found in the country include solar photovoltaic panels and solar hot water or thermal panels. They are made from polycrystalline cells that collect the photons and heat of the sun to produce electricity or heat. They are also commonly installed on roofs of establishments and home to get the maximum amount of sunlight possible.
The team’s research was also recently featured in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.