Agriculture department of energy scientists develop transparent solar film

Published on November 4th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


New Transparent Thin Film Solar Material Could Turn Windows into Solar Power Generators

November 4th, 2010 by  

department of energy scientists develop transparent solar filmScientists 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

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Seeing as the sun delivers 89,000 Terawatts to the Earth’s surface, decent solar panels would make petrochemicals, gas and coal obsolete, and energy would be extremely cheap, discounting start-up costs of retailed solar power systems.

  • Russell Geisthardt

    I don’t see the point. Photovoltaic windows are semitransparent, which means that they don’t absorb as much light as you would like for a solar panel, and they don’t transmit as much light as you would like for a window. Thus, they’re not good at either. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put in regular windows and put up regular solar panels on the walls?

    • Tina Casey

      Russell: Thanks for your comment. Good point. However, transparent solar film would enable designers to maximize the solar energy potential of buildings by using windows and walls both to generate energy. Also, transparent solar film would be useful in glass-walled buildings and other structures such as greenhouses.

  • Pingback: Cool Green Morning: Friday, November 5 | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy()

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