We've covered transparent solar cells here before, but when there's a cool new entry to the field it deserves some attention. Researchers at Brookhaven and Los Alamos National Laboratories have created thin films capable of generating power by combining a semiconducting polymer with carbon fullerenes.
From a press release: "Under carefully controlled conditions, the material self-assembles to form a reproducible pattern of micron-size hexagon-shaped cells over a relatively large area (up to several millimeters)."
The researchers noted that hexagonal transparent cells have been created before using other polymers, but never with the semiconductor-fullerene combination. By repeating the millimeter-scale patterning over a wider area, one of the researchers said the thin film could be used to create "energy-generating solar windows, transparent solar panels, and new kinds of optical displays."
The hexagons tend to let light through their centers and absorb it better at the edges, keeping an array of them largely transparent. And the edges also seem capable of conducting electricity.
Even the fabrication process seems predisposed to scale up toward commercial uses. Micrometer-scale water droplets were spread over a thin layer of the polymer-fullerenes combo, and the water then assembled itself into larger arrays. When it evaporated, the hexagonal structure of the arrays was left behind. The paper on the new technique and material was published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
The list of solar cell innovations continues to grow, but most are slow to scale up toward actual market use. Still, it doesn't get any less exciting to picture the windows of one's house actually powering what's behind them.
(Image via Brookhaven National Laboratory)