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Michigan State University Researchers Develop Transparent Solar Panels

Scientists at MSU have created a transparent solar concentrator with the potential to turn any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell.

Scientists at Michigan State University have created a transparent solar concentrator that could turn any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell. The team is certain the panels could be used in an extensive variety of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.”
“When you look at tall buildings, there is a tremendous amount of surface area. They can act as efficient collectors throughout the day,” says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University who headed the research. “In many buildings, we are already installing films to reject infrared light to reduce heating and cooling costs. We aim to do something similar while also generating power.”
Photovoltaic solar cells create energy by absorbing photons from sunlight and converting them into electricity. If the material is transparent, it implies that the majority of the light passes through the medium without being absorbed. This is why previous transparent solar cells have been tinted with solar film, which casts a noticeable shadow.
To overcome this obstacle, the MSU researchers used a distinctive new system for accumulating sun-light. As opposed to attempting to make a transparent photovoltaic, they created a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC). The TLSC is made of of natural salts that absorb wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light that glow as an alternate wavelength of infrared light, which is non-visible. The infrared light is directed to the edge, where thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cells convert it into electricity.
The TLSC at present has an effectiveness of around 1%, and researchers are working to reach at least 5%. Non-transparent luminescent concentrators max out around 7%. When the transparent solar panels are put up on a bigger scale, in a large building, the numbers could quickly add up.
Richard Lunt has co-founded a company, Ubiquitous Energy, to commercialize the transparent solar panels. He believes the first applications of the TLSC could be possible in the next five years. “Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there,” Lunt says.
Scientists are sure that the innovation might scale from extensive industrial and commercial applications down to consumer devices while staying within a “moderate” price range. So far, one of the bigger hindrances to large-scale reception of solar power is the space required for traditional photovoltaic solar panels. If solar power could be generated from sheets of seemingly ordinary glass and plastic, it greatly expands the areas available for deployment of solar panels.

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