Today’s smartphones are dominated by their screens – and researchers just unveiled a new type of 100% transparent solar panel that could turn displays, windows, and other transparent surfaces into clean energy generators. Vice Motherboard reports that Michigan State University has come up with a crystal clear solar concentrator that can be integrated into anything with a clear surface – from the window of your house to the screen on your smartphone – to gather energy without blocking the view.
The new technology was developed by a team at MSU’s College of Engineering. It hinges upon small organic molecules capable of absorbing certain wavelengths of sunlight that are invisible to the human eye. “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,” MSU assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, Richard Lunt told Motherboard. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the invisible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye.”
Once absorbed, the light waves get trapped and guided to the edges of the plastic solar concentrator where photovoltaic cells turn them into electricity. Motherboard points out that this is one of the big advantages of this technology over conventional solar voltaic methods; solar luminescent concentrators can harvest light from a larger area without having to track the sun. They’re also cheaper because the materials cost less.
There is a big downside to this tech as it currently exists – the conversion efficiency sits at a lowly 1% – compared to as much as 25% for traditional solar panels. But the MSU researchers are aiming for more than 5% efficiency when their new panels are fully optimized.
Images via MSU