When many people think of solar technology they imagine the large bulky panels on rooftops of homes and buildings, but researchers at UCLA have announced a breakthrough in the way solar energy can be absorbed. They have developed a nearly transparent film, created from an organic polymer that is more durable and malleable than silicon. This means that not only windows on building can use the film but also imagine car windows, even airplane windows capturing solar energy along the ride. The film may even be used on cell phones and laptops, a way that technology we use can grab the energy it needs to run.
“I think that solar has to take a different attitude,” explains Professor Yang Yang at UCLA’s California Nanosystems Institute, who has headed up the research on the new photovoltaic polymer. “Whenever people think about solar, they think about the big silicon panels that they put on their roof, or the big solar farms that SoCal Edison builds out in the desert. But for the future of energy use, we must think about how to harvest energy whenever and wherever it is possible. If we can change the concept that energy has to come from one source, which is the power company, that the supply should not be subject to the limitations of the power grid, a lot of new things can happen.”
The applications of this new technology are a game changer in the solar industry. The polymer could even be sprayed on, meaning that solar technology could become even more cost effective, cheaper to apply.
“[A solar film] harvests light and turns it into electricity. In our case, we harvest only the infrared part,” says Yang. The material doesn’t have to be dark or black or blue, like most silicon photovoltaic panels. “We have developed a material that absorbs infrared and is all transparent to the visible light.”
Yang and his team see a bright future in the possibilities with this new technology and many see how it will help in developing countries around the world.