Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy have developed a material that could turn an ordinary-looking window into a solar panel. If developed successfully, the breakthrough means that any window could do double duty as a solar panel, and entire glass-walled buildings could be designed around their capacity to generate solar energy. Aside from their use in residences and office buildings, transparent solar panels also raise the potential to add value other structures such as solar greenhouses.
Transparent Thin Film Solar Material and “Fullerenes”
The new material was developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Its keynote is the use of fullerenes, which are molecules composed of 60 carbon atoms, shaped roughly like a soccer ball. Fullerines have the ability to assemble themselves into a honeycomb-like pattern of hexagons. When they are applied to a polymer they end up pushing the polymer chains to the edges of the hexagons, and that makes the resulting material transparent.
Water and Thin Film Solar Panels
There is still a long way to go before the new material can be developed for commercial purposes, but the prospects look pretty attractive. The manufacturing process was designed to be cost effective, with the potential to be expanded from the lab to factory scale. It involves using water droplets to steer the polymer-fullerene material into forming its distinctive honeycomb pattern. This wouldn’t be the first time that water droplets have been used to create futuristic materials; they have also been used as “chaperones” to manipulate graphene into precise shapes.
Image: Sunny window by Nitevision on flickr.com.