Researchers at UCLA have invented a "high-performance solar cell" that is mostly transparent, opening the possibility of skylights and windows that generate electricity, the school announced on Sunday.
Writing in this month's edition of the science journal ACS Nano, a team of UCLA chemists and biochemists said their "high-performance, visibly transparent polymer solar cells'' opens up new possibilities for energy generation and architecture.
The plastic windows generate electricity at a 4 percent efficiency rating, which may sound low but is within commercially-viable efficiency levels. The panels absorb solar energy in the near-infrared spectrum, but pass through 66 percent of the light in the visible wavelengths used by humans to see.
The school simultaneously published an advance in the conductor used to harvest the electricity from the cells, to replace the traditional metal cathode used for that. The use of a mixture of sub-microscopic nanowires made of silver and titanium dioxide allows energy to flow off the windows without being visible to the eye.
"We are excited by this new invention on transparent solar cells, which applied to our recent advances in transparent conducting windows to fabricate these devices," said Paul S. Weiss, the director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.
The study's co-authors are Weiss, post-doctoral researcher Rui Zhu, and doctoral students Chun-Chao Chen, Letian Dou, Choong-Heui Chung, Tze-Bin Song and Steve Hawks.