The big, shiny black solar panels you're used to seeing bolted onto south-facing rooftops may soon be obsolete, if researchers at UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute continue to advance solar nanoscience at their current lightspeed pace. In fact, you not only won't recognize the new technology, you won't even be able to see it -- because it will be virtually transparent. And instead of being mounted to the roof, these thin plastic flexible sheets will cover your windows and skylights, as well as smaller surfaces like the face of your smartphone or tablet. What if the sun's not shining brightly? No problem, because these polymer solar cells (PSCs) absorb mostly ultra-violet and near-infrared (NIR) light, rather than the visible light that more traditional solar technology relies upon.
[Transparent solar cells, courtesy of UCLA Newsroom]
The UCLA research team that's working on this advanced materials science and nanotech project recently published their results in the journal ACS Nano, in an article titled "Visibly Transparent Polymer Solar Cells Produced by Solution Processing." Solution processing is one of the key developments in this new PSC technology, allowing for cheaper and more efficient materials. A brief explanation of the solution processing advantage and the role of nanoparticles comes from this more general Nanotechweb article:
Conventional solar cells are made using highly pure and therefore relatively expensive chemicals, at typically very slow rates and at quite high temperatures of above 400 °C. The new solar cells are for the most part produced using nanoparticle solutions made from standard reagent grade chemicals, in air at lower temperatures of around 300–350 °C. What's more, because the solution-processing technique is versatile, it allows the researchers to tune the composition and thus the electronic properties of the final cells.
Breakthroughs made by the UCLA nanotech scientists are in the realm of solution processing (namely through a 3-layer process), as well as in their use of silver nanowires that convert light to electricity. Up to now, there's been a frustrating trade-off between efficient conductivity and transparency, with one requiring a sacrifice of the other. According to the ACS Nano article:
High-performance visibly transparent PSCs are achieved by combining polymeric PV materials sensitive to NIR light but highly transparent to visible light, together with solution-processed high performance AgNW-based [silver nanowire] composite transparent conductors. Both visible light transparency and PCE [power-conversion efficiency] are addressed simultaneously.
[Three-layer transparent polymer photovoltaic system, courtesy of ACS Nano article]
A key member of this high-profile scientific team is Dr. Yang Yang (photo left) of the department of materials science and engineering at UCLA, who is also director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute. In another article from earlier this year on which Dr. Yang is an author, published in Advanced Materials, the PSC process can also be talked about as an example of organic photovoltaics. Though we think of "plastics" as anything but organic, in fact the small-molecules and polymers utilized in this solar electronics nanotech research are carbon-based and renewable.
Members of the Dr. Yang's research team work within the California Nanosystems Institute, the UCLA departments of materials science and engineering, and the departments of chemistry and biochemistry. They include: Chun-Chao Chen, Letian Dou, Rui Zhu, Choong-Heui Chung, Tze-Bin Song, Yue Bing Zheng, Steve Hawks, Gang Li, and Paul S. Weiss.
California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI) is an integrated research institute with scientists from the life and physical sciences, engineering, and medicine. They are dedicated to basic research as well as commercialization (with incubator space and resources). CNSI has facilities at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, both campuses with strong materials science and engineering programs. The UCSB CNSI has its own website.
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be holding its Semiannual UCLA Biotechnology Vendor Showcase expo event next on October 4, 2012 (then again April 4, 2013). This professional show is an excellent connection opportunity for life scientists and lab equipment specialists to discuss the latest lab technologies. The UCLA BVS event is the largest of three BCI tradeshows held over a three-day period in the greater Los Angeles area:
- 10/02/2012 -- 12th Annual BRPF event, UC Irvine
- 10/03/2012 -- 7th Semiannual Front Line event, USC (Sold out, wait list only at this time)
- 10/04/2012 -- 29th Semiannual BVS event, UCLA
For information on exhibiting and a 1-page funding report, click this button:
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a full service event marketing and planning company producing on-campus, life science research tradeshows nationwide for the past 20 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the best research campuses across the country. Visit our website for information about upcoming shows in your area and to register to exhibit or attend. Or call to talk to one of our friendly, knowledgeable sales associates.