We may soon be entering a whole new world of transparent solar panels that gather energy while doubling as windows, glass facades and even the screens of our portable electronic devices. These dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) open up all sorts of possibilities.

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Scientists have been studying DSCs for decades, as they are fairly simple, easy to produce and have low toxicity. How do they work? The dye can produce electricity once it’s sensitized by light. “

Related: 26-year-old engineer plans to make solar energy at night

The dye catches photons of incoming light (sunlight and ambient artificial light) and uses their energy to excite electrons, behaving like chlorophyll in photosynthesis,” according to the GCell website, which provides a more in-depth explanation and an animation.

The latest breakthroughs were made by a team of scientists from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Their specially designed photosensitizer dye molecules can harvest light from the whole visible light spectrum. They published their new study, “Hydroxamic acid preadsorption raises efficiency of cosensitized solar cells,” in the journal Nature this month.

Already the first commercial applications are in use. The SwissTech Convention Center has installed dye-sensitized solar windows. So far, traditional solar cells are outperforming the new DSCs, but it’s early days.

“Our findings pave the way for facile access to high performance DSCs and offer promising prospects for applications as power supply and battery replacement for low-power electronic devices that use ambient light as their energy source,” the study authors wrote.

The DSC panels are flexible and relatively affordable. Developers are hoping that the panels will be sufficiently cost-effective and perform well enough to compete with traditional electrical generation via fossil fuels. It’s awesome to think that the windows in a home or the walls of a greenhouse could be producing clean power. And next time somebody criticizes you for looking at your phone too much, you could tell them that you’re just doing your part to improve the world by generating green power.

Via The Independent and National Center for Biotechnology Information

Lead image via Pexels