Science Blast: Every Window a Power Supply!

Vladimir Bulović of electrical engineering and computer science (left), Miles Barr PhD ’12 (right), and Richard Lunt (below) are making transparent solar cells that could one day be deposited on everyday objects from mobile devices to windows, turning surfaces everywhere into low-cost energy-harvesting systems. This research was supported by the MIT Center for Excitonics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy. Photo: Justin Knight

Overview

MIT researchers are making transparent solar cells that could turn everyday products such as windows and electronic devices into power generators—without altering how they look or function today. How? Their new solar cells absorb only infrared and ultraviolet light. Visible light passes through the cells unimpeded, so our eyes don’t know they’re there. Using simple room-temperature methods, the researchers have deposited coatings of their solar cells on various materials and have used them to run electronic displays using ambient light. They estimate that using coated windows in a skyscraper could provide more than a quarter of the building’s energy needs without changing its look. They’re now beginning to integrate their solar cells into consumer products, including mobile device displays.

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