Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven and Los Alamos National Laboratories have created a new type of transparent photovoltaic film that can be spread over large areas to absorb light and create an electrical charge. It is hoped that the technology could lead to the development of power-generating windows and transparent solar panels.
This isn’t the first ‘solar window‘ story that we have reported on, so what makes this technology so different? According to the scientific journal Chemistry of Materials, “though such honeycomb-patterned thin films have previously been made using conventional polymers like polystyrene, this is the first report of such a material that blends semiconductors and fullerenes to absorb light and efficiently generate charge and charge separation.”
Lead scientist Mircea Cotlet, a physical chemist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials said that the material stays transparent because the polymer chains pack densely only at the edges of the hexagons, while remaining loosely packed and spread very thin across the centers. “The densely packed edges strongly absorb light and may also facilitate conducting electricity,” Cotlet explained, “while the centers do not absorb much light and are relatively transparent.”
“Combining these traits and achieving large-scale patterning could enable a wide range of practical applications, such as energy-generating solar windows, transparent solar panels, and new kinds of optical displays,” said co-researcher Zhihua Xu, a materials scientist at the CFN. “Imagine a house with windows made of this kind of material, which, combined with a solar roof, would cut its electricity costs significantly. This is pretty exciting,” Cotlet said.
She is right — with so many companies each working on separate ways to create ‘solar windows’, surely it is only a matter of time before everyday items such as windows and doors are able to generate electricity for homes and businesses.