A team from UCLA has developed a new transparent solar cell that has the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. In short, they’ve created a solar power-generating window! Described as “a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC)” that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light instead of traditional visible light, the photoactive plastic cell is nearly 70% transparent to the human eye—so you can look through it like a traditional window.
In 2010, we reported that UK-based Oxford Photovoltaics had won a £100,000 ($150,000) prize to develop the technology for screen-printed organic solar cells that could be placed onto window panes in order to generate energy. However today, it seems like a team from UCLA has gone one step further and developed a new transparent solar cell that has the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside.
“These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications,” said study leader Yang Yang, a UCLA professor of materials science and engineering and also director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). “Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible. More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”
There are also other advantages to polymer solar cells over more traditional solar cell technologies, such as building-integrated photovoltaics and integrated PV chargers for portable electronics. In the past, visibly transparent or semitransparent PSCs have suffered low visible light transparency and/or low device efficiency because suitable polymeric PV materials and efficient transparent conductors were not well deployed in device design and fabrication. However that was something the UCLA team wished to address.
By using high-performance, solution-processed, visibly transparent polymer solar cells and incorporating near-infrared light-sensitive polymer and silver nanowire composite films as the top transparent electrode, the UCLA team found that the near-infrared photoactive polymer absorbed more near-infrared light but was less sensitive to visible light. This, in essence, created a perfect balance between solar cell performance and transparency in the visible wavelength region.
Windows that could power our homes? That would be amazing and a crucial step for fully sustainable houses.
Lead image: bgottsab