transparent_solar_cellImagine if the windows in your home or automobile weren’t just windows, but transparent solar panels collecting light energy and converting it into electricity? Such a concept could have a monumental impact on future hybrid cars, and could potentially shave your monthly electricity bill. If transparent solar cells existed, of course. Well guess what? Not only do they exist, but researchers at UCLA say they’ve developed a new kind of transparent solar cell that’s better than anything out there.

The team of researchers constructed a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) that collects mostly infrared light as opposed to visible light, and that little trick results in cells that are almost 70 percent transparent.

“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, who also is director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).

It isn’t quite the Holy Grail of solar technology, but it’s definitely worth noting that past attempts at creating transparent solar cells have always fallen short in one way or another. Some were never very transparent to begin with, and others fell short on the efficiency scale due to the materials used.

The team at UCLA figured a way around these types of problems by turning their attention to infrared light. They also claim a breakthrough in developing a transparent conductor made of a mixture of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which effectively replaces the opaque metal electrode common in past attempts. The upshot is that the composite electrode is economically viable to fabricate by way of solution processing.

Image Credit: UCLA

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