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Solar panels are revolutionary, but they take up a lot of space. To prevent the world from being overtaken by massive solar cells, scientists from Michigan State University are working on a new way to harvest UV rays.

Based on their findings below, the researchers were obviously thinking very clearly.

Crystal Clear Solar Cells

MSU scientists created transparent solar cells that have similar properties and features as traditional panels. The technology uses powerful molecules that absorb invisible wavelengths. Once trapped in the sheet, the material pushes some of the harvested light to the edge, where it is converted into electricity through photovoltaic cells.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” said Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU’s College of Engineering.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye.”

Previous attempts by other researchers to develop clear cells have resulted in poor energy-absorbing capabilities and colored panels. Lunt’s model is completely transparent, making it convenient and practical for everyday use. To match standard units, the cells need to reach solar conversion efficiency levels of at least five percent.

Solar windows

Solar Smartphones and Windows Are Coming

The new solar cells are designed to extend the applications of objects or tools they are attached to. They can be installed between two sheets to increase the overall functionality of windows. On cars, users may soon be able to harvest UV rays on the way to work.

For smartphones and wearables that consume power throughout the day, the new technology could be used to supplement batteries. For such setups, the battery still serves an essential purpose. During the night, when sunlight is weak, individuals could simply switch to the stored power source instead of plugging the device in a wall socket.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” explained Lunt. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

solar house

Perfect for Tight Spaces

Today’s solar units are not space efficient. Large sheets with wide surface areas are needed for maximum exposure. Because of this, people with small homes are left with two options: load up the roof and backyard with clunky solar panels (looks horrible and messy) or limit their solar installation to a small portion of the lot.

The second choice is actually one of the main reasons homeowners are hesitant to adopt solar power. Lack of space means one would not be able to generate as much juice, prolonging the return of investment for such systems. But now, with the development of robust, see-through panels, individuals can incorporate solar power during the early stages of design and planning.

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