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Transparent solar panels become a reality

Solar collection systems dont need to be evident. In fact, they may even be invisible, thanks to researchers at Michigan State University (MSU), who have developed a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) that can be applied to windows and other surfaces.

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The LSC technology is not new, but its transparent appearance is. Previous attempts yielded inefficient results with brightly colored materials, and as argued by the researcher Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU, „Nobody wants to sit behind colored glasses.” Read on to find out how the investigation managed to achieve full transparency of the material.

The new LSC orienting technology achieves transparency wavelengths of sunlight that are not in the visible spectrum. The LSC technology uses to collect small ultraviolet light and near infrared wave lengths, then „shine” on another wavelength in the infrared organic molecules. This „glitter” infrared is directed towards the edge of the plastic, where it is converted into electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic cells.

The transparent LSC technology currently only reaches a solar conversion efficiency close to 1%, while the colored LSC is capable of achieving an efficiency of about 7%. In the future, the research team hopes to optimize the efficiency of energy production technology by 5% (compare this with about 15-20% for a solar cell commercially available).

LSC transparent technology has many benefits, in addition to its aesthetic purity. First, it could be used in a variety of fields and has the potential to be used in commercial and industrial applications at an affordable price, from windows to cell phone screens. Second, the technology can be used to handle the solar heat gain, because it specifically targets infrared wavelengths. According Lunt, „There are already films for windows that are intended to reject the infrared waves, such as low-emissivity coatings (low-E) light. Our goal is to have similar functionality, and simultaneously generate electricity”.

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