A new kind of solar cell could give windows the ability to generate electricity. The polymer solar cells (PSCs), developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) absorb mostly infrared, not visible, light, making them almost 70 percent transparent to the human eye.
The cells are made from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current, according to an article in ACS Nano that describes the research. Applications could include high-performance, visibly transparent photovoltaic (PV) devices, such as building-integrated PV and integrated PV chargers for portable electronics, said study leader Yang Yang, UCLA professor of materials science and engineering, and director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).
A new kind of polymer solar cell that is almost 70 percent transparent to the human eye could give windows the ability to generate electricity by absorbing mostly infrared, not visible, light. (Source: UCLA)
PSCs aren't entirely new, but truly transparent ones are. Previous attempts to make PSCs that are partially or completely transparent to the naked eye have either resulted in devices that are transparent to visible light but not very efficient, or efficient devices that aren't really transparent. The researchers say that this is mostly because the devices were not fabricated with the best combination of polymeric PV materials and efficient transparent conductors. For example, opaque metal electrodes have typically been used.
The UCLA PSCs are lightweight, flexible, and have a maximum transparency of 66 percent at 550nm. They incorporate near-infrared (NIR) photoactive polymer and use a highly transparent silver nanowire-metal oxide composite conducting film as the top transparent electrode. The NIR light-sensitive photoactive polymer balances transparency at visible wavelengths by harvesting solar energy from NIR wavelengths while being less sensitive to visible photons.
The transparent conductor is a major breakthrough, the researchers say. It's made of a mixture of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles. This composite electrode makes it possible for the PSCs to be fabricated in high volume at low cost, via mild solution processes. The transparent PSCs have a power-conversion efficiency of 4 percent.
Other authors of the study are CNSI director Paul S. Weiss; CNSI postdoctoral researcher Yue Bing Zheng; materials science and engineering postdoctoral researcher Rui Zhu; doctoral candidates Chun-Chao Chen, Letian Dou, Choong-Heui Chung, Tze-Bin Song, and Steve Hawks; and Gang Li, former vice president of engineering for Solarmer Energy Inc. The study received funding supported from the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Office of Naval Research, and The Kavli Foundation.
If these solar cells can really be effective in generating electricity--and consquently saving lots on an energy bill--what a boon for consumers. I would hope that if the technology reaches the commercialization stage that the makers offer both windows with the technology baked in, but also some sort of upgrade or modification kit for those of us who own homes and don't want to go through the expense of subbing out existing windows for new models. That is a major, major project.
I wouldn't mind having those windows, either, even here in the woods. There are various types of films that can be added to windows that purport to do something similar. Here are some recent ones:
At 4% efficiency, and a practical application on the south side of office buildings, cost is going to be the deciding factor. Let's hope that taxpayers don't get stuck funding this as the total outpput could be rather restricted.
It's sources report the following efficiencies for conversion of sunlight into biomass (usable energy)
Plants 0.1% - 2 %
Crops 1% - 2%
Sugarcane 7% - 8%
At 4%, this device is on the high-side when compared to energy-harvesting bio-fuels. With even more development, this material could be quite a winner -- and we could continue to use our corn and soybeans to feed people and livestock rather than engines...
This is a really cool development. The real key (costs aside) will be integration of "power windows" into a local smart grid. In this case local would mean within the confines of the building that the windows are installed in. What a great way to harvest power for low voltage lighting, though.
I agree with you totally. This idea of adding solar cell polymer material to windows is the best one yet for generating electricity. With the amount of sunlight passing through windows daily, I would imagine sufficient amounts of electricity can be generated easily. The next item to include in the energy conversion process is an innovative way to store the energy for use on cloudy days.
I agree entirely. With a consumer grade cell at 15%, a 4% cell that will probably not be properly aligned is going to need to be fairly cheap. Don't get me wrong, I love solar, I even converted my lawn mower to solar. The idea of a window that still functions as a window while collecting solar energy is fantastic, but if each window only collects 1Wh for a sunny day, the window will need to be as cheap as glass.
Energy harvesting technologies are well-known to produce really tiny amounts of electrical current -- at the microamp- and even nanoamp-level in some cases. Any idea how much these films could produce, Ann?
Commercial buildings would be a great application and these mega buildings also have some sort of budget which would allow them to invest in the storage capabilities that are so critical to making this effective. Especially since many mega buildings in cities (I'm thinking NYC) have lots of self-induced shade due to their size and number--a factor that could limit the windows' ability to harvest energy even on sunny days.
A new service lets engineers and orthopedic surgeons design and 3D print highly accurate, patient-specific, orthopedic medical implants made of metal -- without owning a 3D printer. Using free, downloadable software, users can import ASCII and binary .STL files, design the implant, and send an encrypted design file to a third-party manufacturer.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.