The sun is scheduled to burn out approximately 5 billion years from today. Until that tragic day occurs, we’re going to be able to harvest solar energy. Most of the current solar cell technology is strikingly inefficient, but a group of researchers at the University of California Los Angeles is making huge strides in where and how we can harvest the power of our 10,000 °F friend.
The earliest models of solar cells featured about 10% transparency, meaning that we weren’t able to see 90% of what’s on the other side, due to the fact that the solar cells were absorbing most of the visible light and converting it into electricity. UCLA researchers have been able to kick that number up to 70%, ushering in the awesome possibility of truly smart windows.
The secret to achieving these transparent, energy harvesting smart windows was a focal shift in the type of light that was targeted and converted into clean energy. In lieu of harvesting light from the visible spectrum, this groundbreaking new method instead sucks up the sun’s natural infrared light, which humans are blind to. This paradigm shift enables intelligent windows that can seamlessly blend in with their dull counterparts.
How exactly is sunlight converted to energy you might ask? The answer is a photoactive plastic coating. Photoactive materials have a chemical reaction when they interact with sunlight. This reaction allows a layer of internal electrodes to convert the sunlight into usable electricity at the base of the solar cell.
Yang Yang, UCLA professor of materials science and engineering and head of the research project said, “Our new polymer solar cells (PSCs) are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible. More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”
This development is a big step towards self-sustaining phones, aircrafts, cars, houses and buildings.
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