Developing clean energy sources is a major priority for environmentalists, and solar energy has emerged as a clean source with high potential. Solar energy is usually created in large scale “solar farms.” They are ground based arrays of solar collectors. While they generate a lot of clean energy, they also take up a lot of space.
In rural areas, space isn’t a major problem. In cities, there’s virtually no space available for solar energy production. Rooftop arrays are one possibility, but even then, many buildings don’t have enough space to host collector arrays.
Enter the researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who have developed a new glass coating that could turn ordinary windows into solar energy collectors. The new approach uses “quantum dots” that collect solar energy and then direct it to a separate solar cell. (Most solar collectors are self-contained units that have the collector and the solar cell in one package.)
The coated window acts as a concentrator for UV light energy. The quantum dots can be customized to accept certain light frequencies and reject others. A traditional solar cell has a life expectancy of about 20 years, whereas the quantum dot coating lasts only about 14 years. The coating is about 2% efficient and it’s very easy to apply to the glass surface.
Using various combinations of cadmium, selenium, zinc and sulfur, the researchers are able to create a collector that accepts only high-energy photons and allows them to migrate from the concentrator to the edge of the glass. The migrating photon is captured and directed to a solar cell.
The researchers believe that the coating is very stable, and could even be removed and reused in a remanufacturing process. The coating is not ready to move into production. It’s efficiency level is still too low to make commercialization worthwhile, however, the researchers believe that by tweaking the coating formula, they can increase the efficiency of the coating to make it economically viable.
Low cost photovoltaics may allow significant energy production from existing glass surfaces in urban areas. While this coating is applied in the manufacturing stage, it’s possible that a method could be devised for applying the coating to glass that’s already in place.
Reducing the need for additional energy production could help in the fight against global warming, reduce operating costs and make energy more widely available in urban areas.
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Photo Credit: David Strom, via Flickr.com