MIT turns plain glass into goldmine of solar energy

July 11th, 2008 - 4:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 11 (IANS) MIT engineers have turned plain glass into a virtual goldmine of solar energy with the help of a sophisticated, yet affordable, concentrator developed by them. “Solar cells generate at least ten times more power when attached to the concentrator. We think this is a practical technology for reducing the cost of solar power,” said MIT electrical engineer Marc Baldo, who led the project.

The technology, using dye-coated glass to collect and channel photons otherwise lost from a solar panel’s surface, could enable an office building to draw energy from its tinted windows as well as its roof.

The engineers coated glass panels with layers of two or more light-capturing dyes. The dyes absorbed incoming light and then re-emitted the energy into the glass, which served as a conduit to channel the light to solar cells along the panels’ edges.

The dyes can vary from bright colours to chemicals mostly transparent to visible light. Because the glass panel edges are so thin, far less semiconductor material is needed to collect light energy and convert it into power.

Because the materials are affordable, relatively easy to scale up beyond a lab setting, and easy to retrofit to existing solar panels, the researchers believe the technology could find its way to the marketplace within three years.

The new technology emerged in part from an NSF Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team effort to transfer the capabilities of photosynthesis to solar technology, reports Eurekalert.

The researchers’ approach succeeded where efforts from the 1970s failed because the thin, concentrated layer of dyes on glass is more effective than the alternative — a low concentration of dyes in plastic — at channelling most of the light all the way to the panel edges.

These findings appeared in the Friday edition of Science.

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