It’s no secret that super tall, glassy towers are the go-to architectural style for many of today’s leading starchitects. But environmentalists worry that the huge expanses of curtain wall windows are not very eco-friendly. A new product, though, just might satisfy those on both ends of this debate.
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a new transparent luminescent solar concentrator that creates solar energy when placed over a window. The exciting part is that the product is totally translucent, so people can still see through the window while the green technology is working. The concentrators can also be placed on cell phones or any device with a flat, clear surface.
The team at Michigan State University developed small, organic molecules to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight, in turn harvesting solar energy. Thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells sit on the edge of the plastic and covert infrared light to electricity.
Soon the glass facades of tall towers like the Time Warner Center could generate solar energy
This type of research is not new, but in past efforts to produce energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials, the energy output was inefficient and the glass products were colored. The new solar concentrators don’t absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, which allows them to appear extremely transparent to the human eye.
Another successful element of the technology is that it has the potential to be scaled for commercial or industrial applications at an affordable cost. The researchers are still working to improve the energy efficiency of the product. Current versions produce a solar conversion efficiency of one percent, but the goal is to reach efficiencies over five percent.
Lead image © Yimu Zhao, MSU doctoral student