Switchable solar window

Lance Wheeler (front) developed a switchable photovoltaic window along with (from left) Nathan Neale, Robert Tenent, Jeffrey Blackburn, Elisa Miller, and David Moore. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL)

Demonstration device dynamically responds to sunlight by transforming from transparent to tinted while converting sunlight into electricity

Thermochromic windows capable of converting sunlight into electricity at a high efficiency have been developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Relying on such advanced materials as perovskites and single-walled carbon nanotubes, the new technology responds to heat by transforming from transparent to tinted. As the window darkens, it generates electricity. The color change is driven by molecules (methylamine) that are reversibly absorbed into the device. When solar energy heats up the device, the molecules are driven out, and the device is darkened. When the sun is not shining, the device is cooled back down, and the molecules re-absorb into the window device, which then appears transparent. A video showing the device switch can be seen here

The NREL-developed demonstration device allows an average of 68 percent of light in the visible portion of the solar spectrum to pass through when it’s in a transparent, or bleached, state. When the window changes color—a process that took about 3 minutes of illumination during testing—only 3 percent is allowed through the window. Existing solar window technologies are static, which means they are designed to harness a fraction of the sunlight without sacrificing too much visible light transmission needed for viewing or the comfort of building occupants. “There is a fundamental tradeoff between a good window and a good solar cell,” said Lance Wheeler, a scientist at NREL. “This technology bypasses that. We have a good solar cell when there’s lots of sunshine and we have a good window when there’s not.”

The proof-of-concept paper published in Nature Communications established a solar power conversion efficiency of 11.3 percent. “There are thermochromic technologies out there but nothing that actually converts that energy into electricity,” Wheeler said. He is the lead author of the paper, “Switchable Photovoltaic Windows Enabled by Reversible Photothermal Complex Dissociation from Methylammonium Lead Iodide.”

His co-authors, all from NREL, are David Moore, Rachelle Ihly, Noah Stanton, Elisa Miller, Robert Tenent, Jeffrey Blackburn, and Nathan Neale.

In testing under 1-sun illumination, the 1-square-centimeter demonstration device cycled through repeated transparent-tinted cycles, but the performance declined over the course of 20 cycles due to restructuring of the switchable layer. Ongoing research is focused on improving cycle stability.

Learn more: NREL Develops Switchable Solar Window

 

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Semi-transparent perovskite solar cells could be great candidates for solar windows

Thermal images are taken by an infrared camera to compare the heat rejection performance of automobile window film, semi-transparent solar cell and glass.
Copyright : Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

A Korean research team has developed semi-transparent perovskite solar cells that could be great candidates for solar windows.

Scientists are exploring ways to develop transparent or semi-transparent solar cells as a substitute for glass walls in modern buildings with the aim of harnessing solar energy. But this has proven challenging, because transparency in solar cells reduces their efficiency in absorbing the sunlight they need to generate electricity.

Typical solar cells today are made of crystalline silicon, which is difficult to make translucent. By contrast, semi-transparent solar cells use, for example, organic or dye-sensitized materials. But compared to crystalline silicon-based cells, their power-conversion efficiencies are relatively low. Perovskites are hybrid organic-inorganic photovoltaic materials, which are cheap to produce and easy to manufacture. They have recently received much attention, as the efficiency of perovskite solar cells has rapidly increased to the level of silicon technologies in the past few years.

Using perovskites, a Korean research team, led by Professor Seunghyup Yoo of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Professor Nam-Gyu Park of Sungkyunkwan University, has developed a semi-transparent solar cell that is highly efficient and functions very effectively as a thermal mirror.

One key to achieving efficient semitransparent solar cells is to develop a transparent electrode for the cell’s uppermost layer that is compatible with the photoactive material. The Korean team developed a ‘top transparent electrode’ (TTE) that works well with perovskite solar cells. The TTE is based on a multilayer stack consisting of a metal film sandwiched between a high refractive index layer and an interfacial buffer layer. This TTE, placed as a solar cell’s top-most layer, can be prepared without damaging ingredients used in the development f perovskite solar cells. Unlike conventional transparent electrodes that only transmit visible light, the team’s TTE plays the dual role of allowing visible light to pass through while at the same time reflecting infrared rays.

The semi-transparent solar cells made with the TTEs exhibited an average power conversion efficiency as high as 13.3%, reflecting 85.5% of incoming infrared light. Currently available crystalline silicon solar cells have up to 25% efficiency but are opaque.

The team believes that if the semi-transparent perovskite solar cells are scaled up for practical applications, they can be used in solar windows for buildings and automobiles, which not only generate electrical energy but also allow smart heat management in indoor environments, thereby utilizing solar energy more efficiently and effectively.

Learn more: Harnessing energy from glass walls

 

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Quantum dot solar-powered windows: Scaling up to full window size proves successful

October 11, 2016 Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li. Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li.

October 11, 2016
Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li.
Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li.

A Los Alamos National Laboratory research team demonstrates an important step in taking quantum dot, solar-powered windows from the laboratory to the construction site.

In a paper this week for the journal Nature Energy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory research team demonstrates an important step in taking quantum dot, solar-powered windows from the laboratory to the construction site by proving that the technology can be scaled up from palm-sized demonstration models to windows large enough to put in and power a building.

“We are developing solar concentrators that will harvest sunlight from building windows and turn it into electricity, using quantum-dot based luminescent solar concentrators,” said lead scientist Victor Klimov. Klimov leads the Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP).

Luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) are light-management devices that can serve as large-area sunlight collectors for photovoltaic cells. An LSC consists of a slab of transparent glass or plastic impregnated or coated with highly emissive fluorophores. After absorbing solar light shining onto a larger-area face of the slab, LSC fluorophores re-emit photons at a lower energy and these photons are guided by total internal reflection to the device edges where they are collected by photovoltaic cells.

At Los Alamos, researchers expand the options for energy production while minimizing the impact on the environment, supporting the Laboratory mission to strengthen energy security for the nation.

In the Nature Energy paper, the team reports on large LSC windows created using the “doctor-blade” technique for depositing thin layers of a dot/polymer composite on top of commercial large-area glass slabs. The “doctor-blade” technique comes from the world of printing and uses a blade to wipe excess liquid material such as ink from a surface, leaving a thin, highly uniform film behind. “The quantum dots used in LSC devices have been specially designed for the optimal performance as LSC fluorophores and to exhibit good compatibility with the polymer material that holds them on the surface of the window,” Klimov noted.

LSCs use colloidal quantum dots to collect light because they have properties such as widely tunable absorption and emission spectra, nearly 100 percent emission efficiencies, and high photostability (they don’t break down in sunlight).

If the cost of an LSC is much lower than that of a photovoltaic cell of comparable surface area and the LSC efficiency is sufficiently high, then it is possible to considerably reduce the cost of producing solar electricity, Klimov said. “Semitransparent LSCs can also enable new types of devices such as solar or photovoltaic windows that could turn presently passive building facades into power generation units.”

The quantum dots used in this study are semiconductor spheres with a core of one material and a shell of another. Their absorption and emission spectra can be tuned almost independently by varying the size and/or composition of the core and the shell. This allows the emission spectrum to be tuned by the parameters of the dot’s core to below the onset of strong optical absorption, which is itself tuned by the parameters of the dot’s shell. As a result, loss of light due to self-absorption is greatly reduced. “This tunability is the key property of these specially designed quantum dots that allows for record-size, high-performance LSC devices,” Klimov said.

Learn more: Quantum-dot solar windows evolve with ‘doctor-blade’ spreading

 

 

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Semi-transparent Solar Cells with Thermal Mirror Capability for Solar Windows

via www.pv-magazine.com

via www.pv-magazine.com

A Korean research team has created semi-transparent perovskite solar cells that demonstrate high-power conversion efficiency and transmit visible light while blocking infrared light, making them great candidates for solar windows.

Modern architects prefer to build exteriors designed with glass mainly from artistic or cost perspectives. Scientists, however, go one step further and see opportunities from its potential ability to harness solar energy. Researchers have thus explored ways to make solar cells transparent or semi-transparent as a substitute material for glass, but this has proven to be a challenging task because solar cells need to absorb sunlight to generate electricity, and when they are transparent, it reduces their energy efficiency.

Typical solar cells today are made of crystalline silicon, but it is difficult to make them translucent. Semi-transparent solar cells under development use, for example, organic or dye-sensitized materials, but compared to crystalline silicon-based cells, their power-conversion efficiencies are relatively low. Perovskites are hybrid organic-inorganic halide-based photovoltaic materials, which are cheap to produce and easy to manufacture. They have recently received much attention as the efficiency of perovskite solar cells has rapidly increased to the level of silicon technologies in the past few years.

Using perovskites, a Korean research team led by Professor Seunghyup Yoo of the Electrical Engineering School at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Professor Nam-Gyu Park of the Chemical Engineering School at Sungkyunkwan University developed a semi-transparent solar cell that is highly efficient and, additionally, functions very effectively as a thermal-mirror.

The team has developed a top transparent electrode (TTE) that works well with perovskite solar cells. In most cases, a key to success in realizing semi-transparent solar cells is to find a TTE that is compatible with a given photoactive material system, which is also the case for perovskite solar cells. The proposed TTE is based on a multilayer stack consisting of a metal film sandwiched between a high refractive-index (high-index) layer and an interfacial buffer layer. This TTE, placed as a top-most layer, can be prepared without damaging ingredients used in perovskite solar cells. Unlike conventional transparent electrodes focusing only on transmitting visible light, the proposed TTE plays the dual role of passing through visible light while reflecting infrared rays. The semi-transparent solar cells made with the proposed TTEs exhibited average power conversion efficiency as high as 13.3% with 85.5% infrared rejection.

The team believes that if the semi-transparent perovskite solar cells are scaled up for practical applications, they can be used in solar windows for buildings and automobiles, which not only generate electrical energy but also enable the smart heat management for indoor environments, thereby utilizing solar energy more efficiently and effectively.

This result was published as a cover article in the July 20, 2016 issue of Advanced Energy Materials. The research paper is entitled “Empowering Semi-transparent Solar Cells with Thermal-mirror Functionality.” (DOI: 10.1002/aenm.201502466)

The team designed the transparent electrode (TE) stack in three layers: A thin-film of silver (Ag) is placed in between the bottom interfacial layer of molybdenum trioxide (MoO3) and the top high-index dielectric layer of zinc sulfide (ZnS). Such a tri-layer approach has been known as a means to increase the overall visible-light transmittance of metallic thin films via index matching technique, which is essentially the same technique used for anti-reflection coating of glasses except that the present case involves a metallic layer.

Traditionally, when a TE is based on a metal film, such as Ag, the film should be extremely thin, e.g., 7-12 nanometers (nm), to obtain transparency and, accordingly, to transmit visible light. However, the team took a different approach in this research. They made the Ag TE two or three times thicker (12-24 nm) than conventional metal films and, as a result, it reflected more infrared light. The high refractive index of the ZnS layer plays an essential role in keeping the visible light transmittance of the proposed TTE high even with the relatively thick Ag film when its thickness is carefully optimized for maximal destructive interference, leading to low reflectance (and thus high transmittance) within its visible light range.

The team confirmed the semi-transparent perovskite solar cell’s thermal-mirror function through an experiment in which a halogen lamp illuminated an object for five minutes through three mediums: a window of bare glass, automotive tinting film, and the proposed semi-transparent perovskite solar cell. An infrared (IR) camera took thermal images of the object as well as that of each window’s surface. The object’s temperature, when exposed through the glass window, rose to 36.8 Celsius degrees whereas both the tinting film and the cell allowed the object to remain below 27 Celsius degrees. The tinting film absorbs light to block solar energy, so the film’s surface became hot as it was continuously exposed to the lamp light, but the proposed semi-transparent solar cell stayed cool since it rejects solar heat energy by reflection, rather than by absorption. The total solar energy rejection (TSER) of the proposed cell was as high as 89.6%.

Professor Yoo of KAIST said, “The major contributions of this work are to find transparent electrode technology suitable for translucent perovskite cells and to provide a design approach to fully harness the potential it can further deliver as a heat mirror in addition to its main role as an electrode. The present work can be further fine-tuned to include colored solar cells and to incorporate flexible or rollable form factors, as they will allow for greater design freedom and thus offer more opportunities for them to be integrated into real-world objects and structures such as cars, buildings, and houses.”

Learn more: KAIST Team Develops Semi-transparent Solar Cells with Thermal Mirror Capability

 

 

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Photovoltaic solar-panel windows could be next for your house

Quantum dot LSC devices under ultraviolet illumination.

Shiny quantum dots brighten future of solar cells

A house window that doubles as a solar panel could be on the horizon, thanks to recent quantum-dot work by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers in collaboration with scientists from University of Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB), Italy. Their project demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.

“The key accomplishment is the demonstration of large-area luminescent solar concentrators that use a new generation of specially engineered quantum dots,” said lead researcher Victor Klimov of the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) at Los Alamos.

Quantum dots are ultra-small bits of semiconductor matter that can be synthesized with nearly atomic precision via modern methods of colloidal chemistry.  Their emission color can be tuned by simply varying their dimensions. Color tunability is combined with high emission efficiencies approaching 100 percent. These properties have recently become the basis of a new technology – quantum dot displays – employed, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire ™ e-reader.

Light-harvesting antennas

A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a photon management device, representing a slab of transparent material that contains highly efficient emitters such as dye molecules or quantum dots. Sunlight absorbed in the slab is re-radiated at longer wavelengths and guided towards the slab edge equipped with a solar cell.

Klimov explained, “The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell, and this increases its power output.”

“LSCs are especially attractive because in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy generation units,” said Sergio Brovelli, who worked at Los Alamos until 2012 and is now a faculty member at UNIMIB.

Because of highly efficient, color-tunable emission and solution processability, quantum dots are attractive materials for use in inexpensive, large-area LSCs.   One challenge, however, is an overlap between emission and absorption bands in the dots, which leads to significant light losses due to the dots re-absorbing some of the light they produce.

“Giant” but still tiny, engineered dots

To overcome this problem the Los Alamos and UNIMIB researchers have developed LSCs based on quantum dots with artificially induced large separation between emission and absorption bands (called a large Stokes shift).

These “Stokes-shift” engineered quantum dots represent cadmium selenide/cadmium sulfide (CdSe/CdS) structures in which light absorption is dominated by an ultra-thick outer shell of CdS, while emission occurs from the inner core of a narrower-gap CdSe. The separation of light-absorption and light-emission functions between the two different parts of the nanostructure results in a large spectral shift of emission with respect to absorption, which greatly reduces losses to re-absorption.

To implement this concept, Los Alamos researchers created a series of thick-shell (so-called “giant”) CdSe/CdS quantum dots, which were incorporated by their Italian partners into large slabs (sized in tens of centimeters) of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA). While being large by quantum dot standards, the active particles are still tiny – only about hundred angstroms across. For comparison, a human hair is about 500,000 angstroms wide.

“A key to the success of this project was the use of a modified industrial method of cell-casting, we developed at UNIMIB Materials Science Department” said Francesco Meinardi, professor of Physics at UNIMIB.

Spectroscopic measurements indicated virtually no losses to re-absorption on distances of tens of centimeters. Further, tests using simulated solar radiation demonstrated high photon harvesting efficiencies of approximately 10% per absorbed photon achievable in nearly transparent samples, perfectly suited for utilization as photovoltaic windows.

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