Solar energy clears the view
Some scientist at Michigan State Univ. (MSU) have been working on a new kind of solar concentrator that if situated on top of a window makes solar energy and, at the same time, is letting people truly see through that window.
The name for this device is transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be useful for buildings, mobile phones and other utilities that need a clear surface.
And as Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering says, the key word for this is “transparent.”
The process of creating solar power from cells located around luminescent plastic-like material is not recent. Still, the progress made in the past lead to few good results as the power production was not efficient and the materials were more colored than transparent.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” reports Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”
The solar capturing system needs small organic molecules produced by Lund and his colleagues to absorb specific invisible wavelengths of sunlight.
“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,” he added.
The “glowing” infrared light is lead to the edges of the plastic and then transformed into electric power with the help of thin strips of PV solar cells.
“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt believes.
A big advantage of this new discoveries is its flexibility. As the technology is at the beginning, is can be helpful even for commercial or industrial applications for low cost needs.
“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”
The researcher believes that there is more work to be done in order to increase the power efficiency. As we speak, it is able to make a solar conversion efficiency close to 1% but can reach 5% when truly optimized. The best LSC has got a 7% efficiency.
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