See-Through Solar Cells Might Signal Dawn of Personalized Energy, Study Says

Researchers in Korea invented a solar cell harnessing UV light to generate 'personalized energy.'
Brad Bergan

Researchers have invented a new design for a metal oxide-based "transparent photovoltaic" (TPV) device — capable of transforming "invisible" ultraviolet (UV) light into energy capable of powering "electric cars, smartphones, and sensors," according to a recent study published in the journal Nano Energy.


See-through solar cells may signal dawn of new personalized energy, says study

Solar power has exhibited a substantial potential to provide the world with clean energy. Recently scientists in Korea have debuted a new design for the development of a high-power transparent solar cell — bringing us one step closer to the goal of a sustainable green future without a need to live on the grid of the fossil fuel industry, TechXplore reports.

The climate crisis demands a radical and immediate shift from conventional fossil fuels to more efficient and eco-friendly sources of green energy. A novel concept called "personalized energy" — which would provide in-situ energy generation on varying scales — is gaining traction with scientists.

For example, solar cells might be integrated into vehicles, cellphone screens, windows, and many other consumer products. But to make this a reality, it's important for solar panels to be easy to handle and transparent. To do this, scientists recently developed TPV devices — which are transparent versions of the traditional solar cell.

Potential of UV light for solar power left unexplored

Unlike their conventional cousins — which are dark, opaque cells capable of absorbing visible light — TPVs absorb the "invisible" UV light outside of the visible spectrum.

The more familiar or conventional solar cells may be either "wet type" (solution-based) or "dry type" (composed of semiconductors). Of these two, the dry-type solar cells have an advantage over the wet-type ones: they are more eco-friendly, cost-effective, and reliable.

Additionally, metal oxides are ideal to absorb and transform UV light — but, despite everything, the potential of metal-oxide TPVs was never fully investigated. Until now.

Researchers from Korea tested TPV device on fan with DC motor

The research team -- from Incheon National University in the Republic of Korea — invented a new design for a metal oxide-based TPV device. They inserted an ultra-thin layer of silicon (Si) in the tiny space between two transparent metal oxide semiconductors — to engineer a more efficient TPV device.

The new study was completed under the leadership of Professor Joondong Kim, who explained: "Our aim was to devise a high-power-producing transparent solar cell, by embedding an ultra-thin film of amorphous Si between zinc oxide and nickel oxide," reports TechXplore.

A new design, the team's Si film has three crucial advantages. First, it works with longer-wavelength light (instead of only bare TPVs). Next, it yields a more efficient means of photon collection. Third, it can transport charged particles to electrodes much faster.

In addition, the design may generate electricity under low-light situations (for example, on rainy or cloudy days). To test its power-generating capability, the researchers had it power a fan's DC motor.

TPV solar cell could help free us from fossil fuel grid

As a consequence of its findings, the team became optimistic regarding real-life applications for the new TPV design in the near future. "We hope to extend the use of our TPV design to all kinds of material, right from glass buildings to mobile devices like electric cars, smartphones, and sensors," said Kim.

As of writing, the team is preparing to take the design to a next-level using novel materials like nanocrystals of metal oxides, 2D semiconductors, and sulfide semiconductors. "Our research is essential for a sustainable green future — especially to connect the clean energy system with no or minimal carbon footprint," explained Kim.

The reality of freeing individual power needs from the fossil fuel grid has seemed as difficult to imagine as reversing the progression of global climate change. But this latest invention from researchers in Korea could be one of many steps toward an alternative means of power production — one capable of untethering us on a personal level from power outlets, electrical bills, and perhaps even the industries that have sadly brought the world to grim ecological prospects.

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