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Technology could transform windows into generators

Transparent solar cells fabricated with gold nanoparticles could potentially turn windows into energy-generating machines and achieve efficiencies as high as 80 per cent, claim developers of the technology.

Norwegian company EnSol AS has patented the concept and seeks to develop it commercially by 2016.

The company is now working with engineers at Leicester University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy to scale up the process of depositing gold nanoparticle cells less than 10nm in size in a transparent composite matrix.

Chris Binns, a professor of nanotechnology at Leicester, said this material could one day coat areas such as roofs of cars or aircraft wings. 

‘The first application you think of though is coating windows in buildings,’ he said, adding the glass would have a slight tinting.

‘There is power to burn with windows because even in the UK you’ll easily get 500W/m2. If you think of a square metre in a typical office building, it’s absolutely massive.’

Binns explained that the technology differs to traditional solar cells because it is based on metal nanoparticles, which have more favourable optical properties to silicon.

‘They have a very intense optical absorption, which is exactly matched to the peak of the sun’s spectrum just by coincidence,’ he said. 

The inventor of the technology, Phil Denby, who is a co-founder of EnSol, admits the efficiency of the metal nanoparticle cells have only yet been demonstrated as proof of concept.

‘We’re struggling with funding, as all research projects are, so we haven’t got to a stage where we can compete against any existing cell technology,’ he said. ‘But the way the cell is fabricated means we’re not dependent on the bandgap energy like silicon solar cells. So potentially we could get up to the thermodynamic limit of solar cell technology. Rather than 30 per cent with silicon, we could get up to 80 per cent efficiency.’

In this short interview Prof Chris Binns explains a project to develop Thin Film Solar Cell Technology. Norwegian company EnSol AS has patented a ground breaking, thin film solar cell technology which they seek to develop commercially by 2016.

EnSol has invested in equipment at Leicester University to produce small amounts of the material for prototypes. The experimental facility will be designed to produce photovoltaic cells with an active area in excess of 40 x 4 mm deposited onto standard glass substrates. These prototype cells will subsequently be characterised and tested.

Binns said EnSol’s photovoltaic technology could one day prove to be less expensive than silicon cells to manufacture with potential ‘spray-on’ techniques.

This image depicts the inside of the deposition chamber taken when scientists are depositing the insulating film. Credit: Prof. Chris Binns, Leicester University.

This image depicts the inside of the deposition chamber taken when scientists are depositing the insulating film. Credit: Prof. Chris Binns, Leicester University.

Readers' comments (6)

  • 500W/m2 in the British Isles maybe.
    How many kWhr/year/m2?/SP investment?

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  • Forgive me Victor, what is the metric 'SP'?

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  • What I can say, it is fantastic idea, it will lead to a real revolution in solar energy.
    May be the first time i wish have enough money to invest in this project.

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  • With the introduction of low voltage systems we could see this technology integrated with low power consuming LED technologies to provide battery charging and real time lighting.
    Storing the output in batteries can also power vital systems such as security alarms and fire monitoring systems as well as LED lighting used at night as security lighting, making them virtually self sufficient. The only connection they may need is to intelligent mains powered charging systems if the batteries fall below a certain level. This would allow zoning of systems with localised battery power rather than the dependency on a national grid, and in the event of a failure or emergency most services could be maintained.

    Where a surplus of power is produced it could be controlled and used for local street lighting for example, this surplus would save local authorities (Taxpayers) money by providing an area of basically free street lighting. Many of these systems could be used to power other local networks, road signs, traffic lights, and the numerous other things we take for granted.

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  • I hope this sort of project gets the support from government that it deserves as it would be more effective than pouring billions into nuclear power stations which produce power that has to transmitted through the national grid.

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  • What happens at night? Is electricity storage (batteries?) technology advancing at a complementary rate?

    What are the health risks of gold nanoparticles?

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