The time when solar concentrators can be placed on the surface of windows or cellphone screens, without disturbing their initial purpose, has finally come. A team of scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) developed a transparent and colourless solar concentrator, which is much cheaper than any of the previously developed technology of this kind.
Ever since the idea of boosting solar power production using luminescent plastic materials came into the picture, scientists have been trying to develop the ultimate technology. Unfortunately, to date, materials of such kind have always been coloured, and could not be used in our day-to-day environment.
This is exactly where the findings from the research conducted by Richard Lunt and his team from MSU’s College of Engineering, come into play. As explained in their article published in Advanced Optical Materials, using tiny organic materials, the guys were able to create a whole solar concentrator module, that can be fine-tuned to absorb different wavelengths of sunlight and reflect this light at other wavelengths. When this is combined with thin strips of solar cells, the system generates electricity.
The biggest innovation here is the fact that there is no emission of light in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning that to the human eye, the system appears invisible, or transparent. This makes it highly suitable for use on building facades and to cover windows, without having to disturb the normal activities happening inside the rooms.
Because it is much cheaper to build than any existing technology, the scientists see their invention one day taking over the commercial market. There is one limitation, or let’s just say, gap that the team has to fill before the product is available to us, and that is the efficiency. Currently, the solar conversion efficiency is around 1 percent, although the team claims that it could be optimized to 5 percent. To put this numbers in perspective, the highest value that has ever been achieved using colour concentrators is 7 percent.
Image (c) Yimu Zhao