Michigan State University researchers have been behind the creation of a completely transparent solar cell or ‘concentrator’ which provides the potential for any window to be converted into a fully functioning photovoltaic solar cell.
This photovoltaic solar cell is truly transparent, unlike other similar cells reported in the media over past years, in this case, you can actually see through this cell!
Richard Lunt, the research team leader, said that the team is very confident that efficient production of the transparent solar panels will be able to be achieved for a wide range of all the way from the glass on the screen f a mobile device, right through to skyscrapers.
Something of a Scientific oxymoron, the transparent solar panel is certainly turning more than just heads. Photovoltaic cells create energy by converting absorbed photons into electrons, so if the cell is transparent, which means that by definition all of the light to hit it will pass through it, then how does it ‘work’ or absorb the photons to create electrons? Previous designs have seen semi-transparent solar cells have achieved these results, but this is the first time a completely transparent cell has been anywhere near effective in the process
The Michigan State research team managed to get around this hurdle by gathering sunlight by means of using a slightly different technique. A Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC) was created instead of attempting to develop a transparent photovoltaic cell. Consisting of organic salts, the TLSC absorbs certain non-visible infrared and ultraviolet light, which is then processed as a different infrared light on a variable wavelength. This infrared light which is emitted is then guided to the outer edges of the plastic where it then comes into contact with thin conventional strips of photovoltaic solar cells that then convert it into electricity.
If you take a very close look you can just see a couple of tiny black strips that run along the edges of the plastic block. Other than that, the device is simply active organic material which then means that the bulk of the solar cell is almost completely transparent.
Currently running at an efficiency of about 1%, the Michigan TLSC research team believes that with further research and tweaking, 5% could be very possible. The challenge going forward is that non-transparent luminescent concentrators hit their efficiency ceiling at around 7%. By themselves, these aren’t large figures, but when you increase the physical scale and replace all previous non-photovoltaic surfaces with these, the numbers would very quickly add up.
The researchers are confident that this could be applied both commercially and industrially while remaining affordable in the process of scaling. With the TLSC being much more aesthetically pleasing than current and previous model solar panels, this may well take off much quicker than anticipated.
It is unlikely at this stage that this advancement is capable of keeping your iPhone fully charged and running indefinitely. However, if you were to replace your current display on your device with a TLSC you could reap the rewards of anything from a few extra minutes through to a few extra hours. Not bad for a start, so we are excited to see where this photovoltaic solar cell tech goes next.