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Spray-on film turns windows into solar panels

06/09/2010
Photovoltaic cells produce electricity directl...

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Imagine a building where all windows and perhaps even its exterior walls, could be used as solar collectors. Well, Norweigan solar power company EnSol is closed to that as it has patented a thin film solar cell technology designed to be sprayed on to just such surfaces.

Unlike traditional silicon-based solar cells, the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix, and operates on a different principle. EnSol is developing the product assisted by the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“One of the key advantages is that it is a transparent thin film that can be coated onto window glass so that windows in buildings can also become power generators,” said Chris Binns, Professor of Nanotechnology at Leicester.

“Obviously some light has to be absorbed in order to generate power but the windows would just have a slight tinting (though a transmission of only 8-10% is common place for windows in the ‘sun belt’ areas of the world). Conversely the structural material of the building can also be coated with a higher degree of absorption. This could be side panels of the building itself, or even in the form of ‘clip-together’ solar roof tiles.”

The researchers say that, due to nanotech research that has already been performed at Leicester, the institution is uniquely suited for production of the film. Ultimately, EnSol hopes to achieve a cell efficiency of at least 20%, and have its product ready for the commercial market by 2016.

This development is reminiscent of Sphelar cells – solidified silicon drop-based solar cells recently developed by Kyosemi Corporation. Although the technology is different, they are also intended to be used in solar panels that double as windows.

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