Market Research and Insight

A new breakthrough could bring us a bit closer to a future in which building and car windows could generate electricity from the sun...

A new breakthrough could bring us a bit closer to a future in which building and car windows could generate electricity from the sun without interfering with the view.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a solar cell made from plastic that’s 70 percent transparent to the human eye. Rather than generating electricity from visible light, their polymer solar cell (PSC) works with infrared light.

“These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications,” said study leader Yang Yang, who also is director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).

“Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible,” Yang said. “More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”

Previous attempts to develop polymer solar cells have resulted in materials with low transparency for visible light, or low efficiency in converting light to electricity. The UCLA solar cell has so far achieved a 4-percent power-conversion efficiency and replaces the opaque metal electrode used in past PCSs with a transparent conductor of silver nanowire mixed with titanium dioxide nanoparticles.

The composite electrode of nanomaterials can be economically produced using solution processing.

Cheap and efficient polymer solar cells could enable a variety of new ways in which to tap the sun’s energy, including building-integrated photovoltaics and integrated solar chargers for portable electronic devices.

Dan Ilett