Game Changer: Solar Windows Now Feasible

July 31, 2012


One of the holy grails of solar cell technology may have been found, with researchers at UCLA announcing they have created a new organic polymer that produces electricity, is nearly transparent and is more durable and malleable than silicon.

The applications are mind-boggling. Windows that produce electricity. Buildings wrapped in transparent solar cells. Laptops and phones – or even cars or planes – whose outer coverings act as chargers. It might even be sprayed on as a liquid. The promise of cheap and easy-to-apply site-generated solar electricity might now be a lot closer to reality.

Of course, the idea of solar films and solar plastics is not new. The breakthrough to making a transparent film, however, came with isolating only one band of light in the spectrum.

“[A solar film] harvests light and turns it into electricity. In our case, we harvest only the infrared part,” says Professor Yang Yang at UCLA’s California Nanosystems Institute, who has headed up the research on the new photovoltaic polymer. Absorbing only the infrared light, he explains, means the material doesn’t have to be dark or black or blue, like most silicon photovoltaic panels. It can be clear. “We have developed a material that absorbs infrared and is all transparent to the visible light.”

and this critical comment at the end of the piece:

“I think that solar has to take a different attitude,” says Yang. “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.”


16 Responses to “Game Changer: Solar Windows Now Feasible”

  1. otter17 Says:

    I’m an electrical engineer, and this still seems like magic to me.

    • rayduray Says:


      I’m a retired electrical contractor and “magic” seems a bit kind. 🙂

      I’m still trying to get my head around the description of this film as being “organic” while its main components are silver and titanium dioxide. Neither of which have that magic “carbon” atom that is required for something to be declared organic.

      So, what did I do? I went to the UCLA CNSI News page and found not a single mention of Yang Yang’s latest polymer breakthrough. The closest I got was on a page listing a paper written in 2008 with Yang as the most junior of five authors. No joy there.

      Now I’m curious what sort of an angle the LA Times blogger, Dean Kuipers, is working?

      Reminds me of a couple of old jokes that investors need to keep in mind.

      1) The expression on Sunset Boulevard among the street hustlers is that ‘if you ain’t workin’ an angle, you are the angle.”

      2) What is a gold mine? Why it’s a hole in the ground with a liar standing next to it.

      Since titanium dioxide is an extremely common compound used to make paint more opaque, it seems that this nano-particle variety of titanium dioxide has some rather extraordinary counter-intuitive properties. And since 0.1 micron wires have to be continuous and oriented in order for current to flow, it seems a bit of a stretch to talk about how this mix of silver and titanium dioxide in a organic polymer liquid could magically lay itself down into well-organized cathode-to-anode electron passing devices.

      • uknowispeaksense Says:

        Here’s a few refs. This isn’t new.
        DOI: 10.1021/la203557f
        DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201103054

        Please don’t ask me any technical questions about this. I’m an ecologist.

        • rayduray Says:

          Hi uknowispeaksense,

          Thanks for the links. The second item you provided was more-or-less above my pay grade, except that I did understand from the discussion just how fiddly (finicky, prone to excess oxidation) the free silver in these multi-layer depositions can be.

          In other words, one scratch on our wonderful solar cell window and it’s now just an expensive sheet of ordinary glass, as far as electrical generation is concerned.

          This all seems very much at the state of being a mere lab curiosity for the time being.


          • uknowispeaksense Says:

            I would imagine the magic layer would be sandwiched between protective layers just as regular photovoltaics are now. Those references were also just a few randomly chosen from the many that turn up in a search of journal databases. My point is this isn’t a new thing and there’s plenty of people working on it. With the speed of technological advances it won’t be long before we’re painting photovoltaics onto our homes.

      • otter17 Says:

        If I can’t explain it, my working hypothesis defaults to black magic, hahaha.

        • rayduray Says:

          This is very much how I see MPEG and all its variants on the Internet. The first gentleman I hired as a computer consultant in 1995 said at the time that computer video was a “black art”. It’s only improved to murky grey of .avi, .mp4. .mkv and other bewildering complexifications since then. 🙂

          Peter Sinclair’s marvels of succinct editing have me totally enthralled. He’s a real black magic man. 🙂

        • uknowispeaksense Says:

          Thats too funny.

  2. […] LATimes: One of the holy grails of solar cell technology may have been found, with researchers at UCLA announcing they have created a new organic polymer that produces electricity, is nearly transp…  […]

  3. scmayo Says:

    The news article is based on a paper that only just came out:

    Yang Yang and his group are active and respected researchers in the field. They are not the first to make transparent solar cells though, Gratzel cells have been around for a while. One thing that is important about YY’s work here is that it is solution processed meaning it could be mass produced more easily and cheaply.

    The group website is here:

  4. Titanium dioxide is, I believe, the white pigment of white paint. It is abundant and cheap. And we were supposed to see it as the major constituent of a miraculous product marketed as a paint-on instant PV panel material years ago. Years. Ago. Paint your house and roof with a dirt-cheap product that would generate electricity like a PV panel. Gee, do you think there might be a market for that?

    We were supposed to see aerosol spray-on glass – another miracle product. Years Ago.

    We were supposed to be seeing high-capacity slow-discharge fast-charging capacitors to be used as light-weight car batteries right about now.

    There is evidently a big difference between a lab discovery and the ability to deliver a mass-produced product. And there might well be big incentives to sell one’s patent to huge corporations whose products would become instantly obsolete by a miracle product – the vanishing of the spray-on glass product reeks of this, for example.

  5. More Hopium b.s., yet another magical techno-fix that doesn’t actually exist (and would in fact only make things worse, ie., Jevons Paradox).

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