CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world.


Clean Power solar dye technology

Published on July 14th, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett

36

Dyeing to Boost Solar Efficiency by 50%



 

solar dye technologyMIT has perfected a dye technology that could change the solar world as we know it.

 
The most efficient form of solar technology today is (arguably) extreme concentrated photovoltaics, essentially solar panels placed under a magnifying glass. But the problem with these systems is heat.

Concentrated sunlight can melt silicon solar panels unless you include specialized cooling systems. Cooling technology costs money, and the panels require expensive tracking mechanisms to follow the sun through the day. MIT’s new solar system bypasses the heat and tracking problems all together.

Thin coatings of organic dyes absorb sunlight and redirect favored wavelengths into a pane of glass. The light is aimed and concentrated towards the edge of the pane where small solar panels are located. The concentrated light allows the panels to produce the maximum possible amount of energy all day, every day without cooling systems or complex tracking mechanisms.
 

 
solar dye technologyThe idea is not new, but its founders in the 70s could not overcome technical challenges. The technology was abandoned when research funding dried up. Their dyes were unstable, and their optical experise was imperfect. Much of the light captured and concentrated into their glass or plastic was lost before it could reach the solar cells. MIT took tips from laser technology and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) to perfect the technology. Their expertise increased the distance light can travel through glass or plastic to reach the solar panels, boosting energy production.

“In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell “by a factor of over 40.”" According to Marc A Baldo, an associate professor at MIT who helped lead the project. For more technical details, you may need an AAAS membership to read the Science article.

Three Reasons Why This Could Rock the Solar World:

1) It’s Easy: The technology is neither complex or difficult to manufacture. All you need is a window frame laced with solar panels and an ordinary pane of glass or plastic. Apply the proper ratios of organic dyes and you’re ready to go. The finished product looks like smoked glass and could be used on rooftops or solar farms. Future improvements could bring them to ordinary windows. Hopefully it will be competitive in price with other solar technologies.

2) Upgrade Existing Solar: This technology can be applied to existing photovoltaic panels to boost their efficiency by as much as 50% with minimal additional cost. Upgrading existing solar panels will not only boost their energy output, but shift their cost/energy ratios. That means that even older, more expensive solar installations could become more competitive with non-renewable energy sources.

3) It’s Coming Soon: MIT claims this technology could be ready for commercial production within three years. A company has already been founded to capitalize on the technology, and it won two prizes at MIT’s Enterpreneurship Competition, totaling $30,000. They will also seek more investment over the next few months. Keep your eyes peeled for Covalent Solar.

But nothing is certain. Like any new technology, this one has its challenges ahead. The dyes, for example, have a demonstrated lifespan of ten years, but most solar panels come with twenty or twenty-five year warranties. Covalent Solar must also run the gamut of any fledgling business to bring their product to market. With so many improving and emerging solar technologies, they will face a lot of competition.

What makes this technology different is its implications for existing solar installations and expansion into new spaces. A window that helps power a building could become a powerful tool towards super-efficient or power-producing structures. The potential for low cost, high efficiency solar technologies has never been greater.

Images via the MIT website

More on Solar Power:

Print Friendly

Tags:


About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.



  • http://is.gd/Fo2 website design

    So in following with these stories the past few years, I expect that solar is now 10,000% efficient and costs $-5.00 per kilowatt hour.

  • http://is.gd/Fo2 website design

    So in following with these stories the past few years, I expect that solar is now 10,000% efficient and costs $-5.00 per kilowatt hour.

  • http://techwalker.net Mark Schneider

    This is great news of course. But the reality is we need to build about 100 nuclear power plants over the next 10 years so we can get off coal. Wind solar, and other forms of “clean energy” will only provide only about 20% of our energy needs, at the absolute most.

  • http://techwalker.net Mark Schneider

    This is great news of course. But the reality is we need to build about 100 nuclear power plants over the next 10 years so we can get off coal. Wind solar, and other forms of “clean energy” will only provide only about 20% of our energy needs, at the absolute most.

  • Brett Stewart

    Hi There,

    You guys from MIT should really get together with Dyesol here in Australia. This company has been working with Dye solar technology. You could replace your current non-performing dye’s with the Dye Solar solution to generate electricity from the Dye itself and you’re novel solution. This should increase the efficiency of your solar cell by providing another source of electricity within the solar device itself. I don’t care who does the solar, I just want a clean world for future generations!

  • Brett Stewart

    Hi There,

    You guys from MIT should really get together with Dyesol here in Australia. This company has been working with Dye solar technology. You could replace your current non-performing dye’s with the Dye Solar solution to generate electricity from the Dye itself and you’re novel solution. This should increase the efficiency of your solar cell by providing another source of electricity within the solar device itself. I don’t care who does the solar, I just want a clean world for future generations!

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve already read about this back in March from a company called Octillion, a company that bills itself as a technology incubator promoting Nanopower Windows.

    http://www.octillioncorp.com/OCTL_20080324.html

    Be careful about jumping in with your money. These all sound wonderful, but it’s still not ready.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve already read about this back in March from a company called Octillion, a company that bills itself as a technology incubator promoting Nanopower Windows.

    http://www.octillioncorp.com/OCTL_20080324.html

    Be careful about jumping in with your money. These all sound wonderful, but it’s still not ready.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    @ Ian:

    If I understand your question correctly, I hope this reply is useful. You can use this technology in two ways. Firstly, as an addition to conventional solar panels to boost their efficiency. Secondly, as an independent unit that looks like a tinted or frosted pane of ordinary glass. So if you wanted to use these as conventional windows, they would allow less light into a room. The good news is that some office buildings already do this, and in some climates (especially deserts), this can be a bonus.

    @ Richard Tallent:

    Since I couldn’t access the scientific publication for this story I’m not sure which wavelengths of light are captured for the solar panels. Since the “windows” would appear frosted or tinted, and since other solar panels can operate beneath one of these “windows”, I assume that some visible light still passes through them. Even though this technology is more efficient than the original versions from the 1970s, if it captured 100% of visible light then the glass pane would appear opaque.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    @ Ian:

    If I understand your question correctly, I hope this reply is useful. You can use this technology in two ways. Firstly, as an addition to conventional solar panels to boost their efficiency. Secondly, as an independent unit that looks like a tinted or frosted pane of ordinary glass. So if you wanted to use these as conventional windows, they would allow less light into a room. The good news is that some office buildings already do this, and in some climates (especially deserts), this can be a bonus.

    @ Richard Tallent:

    Since I couldn’t access the scientific publication for this story I’m not sure which wavelengths of light are captured for the solar panels. Since the “windows” would appear frosted or tinted, and since other solar panels can operate beneath one of these “windows”, I assume that some visible light still passes through them. Even though this technology is more efficient than the original versions from the 1970s, if it captured 100% of visible light then the glass pane would appear opaque.

  • http://www.totalsolarenergy.co.uk Garfield

    we are getting there. soon solar will be as economical as fossil fuels. nanosolar have got this almost ‘paint on’ solar cell technology that should be ready soon. There is fierce competition between companies now which can only bode well for the market. i don’t think the $0.99 per watt holy grail is very far off now.

    Total Solar Energy

  • http://www.totalsolarenergy.co.uk Garfield

    we are getting there. soon solar will be as economical as fossil fuels. nanosolar have got this almost ‘paint on’ solar cell technology that should be ready soon. There is fierce competition between companies now which can only bode well for the market. i don’t think the $0.99 per watt holy grail is very far off now.

    Total Solar Energy

  • http://globalrooftop.blogspot.com Arpie

    Excellent news! Thanks. Please note that there’s a typo on the article (commerical should be commercial). Linked to on The Global Rooftop Blog

  • http://globalrooftop.blogspot.com Arpie

    Excellent news! Thanks. Please note that there’s a typo on the article (commerical should be commercial). Linked to on The Global Rooftop Blog

  • Larry

    Ian “As I understand it the frosted glass just sits on top of the panels right? So how is this going to become a window that helps power a building? Are we just going to have very dark offices with the backside of solar panels as your outside view?”

    You are understanding it in correctly, the solar panels are placed around the edges of the glass. There is one big one behind the glass to catch the light that goes straight through it, but that can be taken out so this can be used as a window. The solar panels that capture the light would be (presumably) hidden within the walls.

  • Larry

    Ian “As I understand it the frosted glass just sits on top of the panels right? So how is this going to become a window that helps power a building? Are we just going to have very dark offices with the backside of solar panels as your outside view?”

    You are understanding it in correctly, the solar panels are placed around the edges of the glass. There is one big one behind the glass to catch the light that goes straight through it, but that can be taken out so this can be used as a window. The solar panels that capture the light would be (presumably) hidden within the walls.

  • Ron R

    Good comments, Sarah. And a lot to hope for, in this technology. For more information on efforts to utilize alternative energy, visit PickensPlan.com.

  • Ron R

    Good comments, Sarah. And a lot to hope for, in this technology. For more information on efforts to utilize alternative energy, visit PickensPlan.com.

  • http://www.greenauthors.com Green Authors

    Every time I hear about how solar panels are going to get more efficient I hold off on getting them for my home. At some point in time I’ll have to set a date and just pull the trigger.

  • http://www.greenauthors.com Green Authors

    Every time I hear about how solar panels are going to get more efficient I hold off on getting them for my home. At some point in time I’ll have to set a date and just pull the trigger.

  • Sarah Lozanova

    Considering how the price of solar panels has dropped and efficiency has skyrocketed in the last couple decades, I am not skeptical when I hear about such advances.

    The solar panels being created in labs in 1954 were a mere 4% efficient. The solar panels on my roof, which aren’t anything unique are 20% efficient.

  • http://www.tallent.us/ Richard Tallent

    Can’t tell from the article, but it sounds like infrared passes unimpeded through the glass pane, and only visible wavelengths are redirected toward the edges.

    If so, this means a single pane of glass can do double-duty for both electricity generation (around the edges) and water/interior heating (underneath).

    And, twist this technology around with other dyes and you have new ways to filter UV and infrared from windows, by redirecting their wavelengths toward the edges and ventilated up and back out of the house (ridge-vent style).

  • http://www.tallent.us/ Richard Tallent

    Can’t tell from the article, but it sounds like infrared passes unimpeded through the glass pane, and only visible wavelengths are redirected toward the edges.

    If so, this means a single pane of glass can do double-duty for both electricity generation (around the edges) and water/interior heating (underneath).

    And, twist this technology around with other dyes and you have new ways to filter UV and infrared from windows, by redirecting their wavelengths toward the edges and ventilated up and back out of the house (ridge-vent style).

  • ron

    so is this a genuine advancement or just the latest of a 1000 stories we’ve all read about the latest revolutionary advancement promising the cheap solar future is going to happen tomorrow?

    the day i see this stuff in home depot is the day I’ll be excited.

  • ron

    so is this a genuine advancement or just the latest of a 1000 stories we’ve all read about the latest revolutionary advancement promising the cheap solar future is going to happen tomorrow?

    the day i see this stuff in home depot is the day I’ll be excited.

  • Sarah Lozanova

    Eric-

    Wind turbines are sited to maximize the wind resources of the land. Many turbines will turn to capture more wind energy.

    Solar energy can be maximized in different ways than wind energy. For example, a wind turbine might face west in the morning when the sun is rising in the east.

    The two technologies however can compliment each other well however. There can be strong winds after dark or little wind at high noon.

  • Danielle Mustillo

    Cool! I can’t wait to see the day that solar energy will take over the conventional forms of energy. If this new technology can make it into buildings downtown (where buildings covered in glass is the new thing)… lets just say we wont really need coal all that much anymore.

    I’ll defiantly be first in line for a solar panel (if I have the money of course).

  • Danielle Mustillo

    Cool! I can’t wait to see the day that solar energy will take over the conventional forms of energy. If this new technology can make it into buildings downtown (where buildings covered in glass is the new thing)… lets just say we wont really need coal all that much anymore.

    I’ll defiantly be first in line for a solar panel (if I have the money of course).

  • Ian

    “A window that helps power a building could become a powerful tool towards super-efficient or power-producing structures.”

    As I understand it the frosted glass just sits on top of the panels right? So how is this going to become a window that helps power a building? Are we just going to have very dark offices with the backside of solar panels as your outside view?

  • Ian

    “A window that helps power a building could become a powerful tool towards super-efficient or power-producing structures.”

    As I understand it the frosted glass just sits on top of the panels right? So how is this going to become a window that helps power a building? Are we just going to have very dark offices with the backside of solar panels as your outside view?

  • Eric E

    Question. Why don’t we combine solar technology with wind farms? That is, why don’t we line the blades with solar panels?

  • Eric E

    Question. Why don’t we combine solar technology with wind farms? That is, why don’t we line the blades with solar panels?

  • Pingback: TROMPYX » Dying to Boost Solar Efficiency by 50%

  • Pingback: Dying to Boost Solar Efficiency by 50% « Jay Keating’s 2008 Weblog

  • http://www.uglyshz.com/blog JonL

    Great news! If their product is cheap enough, a ten year lifespan shouldn’t be a hindrance. Especially if it’s a dye coating on the glass that breaks down.

    You could conceivably just strip and recoat your panels, just like you paint your house.

    Go MIT!

  • http://www.uglyshz.com/blog JonL

    Great news! If their product is cheap enough, a ten year lifespan shouldn’t be a hindrance. Especially if it’s a dye coating on the glass that breaks down.

    You could conceivably just strip and recoat your panels, just like you paint your house.

    Go MIT!

Back to Top ↑