Best Invention Ever!

Well if the news of the largest carbon capture and storage coal power plant coming online didn’t float your boat then check out this new green innovation, See through solar panels. If we are going to reverse climate change then we can’t just rely on one technology, we have to institute a suite of climate fighting policies but considering the amount of solar energy that hits earth every hour, solar should be at the forefront.

One major issue with solar is the sheer amount of space required to set up a solar farm, especially when you consider that the major power hogs, cities, have very little usable space. So amongst the skyscrapers in major cities where could you possibly put a solar plant? Although roof tops could provide some limited space for solar panels, there is an even better solution thanks to scientists at the Michigan State University, clear plastic solar collectors.

These ingenious cells can be added to windows of any building turning an entire city into one massive solar power plant. According to a recent paper in the journal Advanced Optical Materials, the plastic lets through all visible light. The solar-collecting windows won’t appear tinted or cloudy to the human eye. Instead, the material is embedded with tiny fluorescent organic salt molecules, which have been engineered to absorb only parts of the light spectrum that people can’t see, such as ultraviolet and near-infrared light.

What is even more amazing is that it’s not just buildings that these cells can be applied to, you could put them on cars, mobile phones or anything you like, their freaking see through. The cells work by harvesting non-visible light that hits the organic salt molecules, which through luminescence glow, this “glow” is then sent to micro photo-voltaic collectors on the edge of the glass. Richard Lunt, an assistant professor at Michigan State said “We tailor them to suit our needs. That is to harvest particular components on the invisible solar spectrum and glow at another wavelength in the infrared.” Once the light is harvested it can either be used to charge directly connected batteries or send to the grid.

Yimu Zhao & Richard Lunt from Michigan State University
Yimu Zhao & Richard Lunt from Michigan State University

Like all new technologies, these panels require refinement, as only 1% of the ultraviolet and infrared light is currently being converted but when you consider that commercial panels are only around 15% efficient, they should be able to boost their efficiency fairly quickly. “We are actively exploring routes to improve efficiency by improving the ‘glowing’ efficiency, expanding the absorption range of the infrared spectrum,” said Lunt

Another bonus is that the technology used to manufacture the cells is already a standard industrial process, the researchers believe that once the efficiency is at a commercial level their cells should be a lot cheaper than traditional panels. We can’t wait to install our solar windows but Lunt believes that small devices will be the first to receive the technology as the cells already produce enough power to charge things like phones and e-readers.

We will let Lunt explain what the most amazing part of this technology is, “You can even think about putting these devices over surfaces where you care about maintaining certain aesthetics or patterns, like siding, textiles or even billboards, they could be all around us without even knowing they are there.”

Stay Curious – C.Costigan

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