Swiss scientists’ transparent solar cells will be sweet for startups

Swiss scientists’ transparent solar cells will be sweet for startups

As Europe’s transparent solar panel market swells, Swiss scientists have set a new efficiency record for the technology. This could lead the way to energy-generating windows that power up our homes and devices.

Also known as Grätzel cells, dye-sensitised solar cells (DSCs) are a type of low-cost solar cell that use photosensitized dye to convert visible light into electricity.

Previous versions of DSCs have been reliant on direct sunlight, but a team of researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have found a way to make transparent photosensitizers that can absorb light across the entire visible light spectrum, including both direct and ambient. 

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The researchers developed a way of improving the combination of two newly designed photosensitizer dye molecules. They did this by creating a technique in which a monolayer of a hydroxamic acid derivative is pre-adsorbed onto the surface of nanocrystalline mesoporous titanium dioxide. 

On top of the new photosensitizers being able to harvest light across the entire visible domain, the scientists have also increased the DSCs’ photovoltaic performance — which has been a weak point of the technology compared to traditional solar cells. 

To put that in numbers, the enhanced DSCs’ efficiency reaches above 15% in direct sunlight and up to 30% in ambient light. For reference, commercial solar panels have an average efficiency between 15% to 22%

In other words, if this technology can hit scale, we may soon see a transparent solar panel revolution in Europe.

How are DSCs already being used?

DSCs aren’t a new technology, but the advances from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne could deliver a lifeline to sustainable buildings.

Dye-sensitised solar cells are not only transparent, but can also be fabricated in multiple colors and for low cost. In fact, some are already being used in skylights, greenhouses, as well as glass facades. 

For example, think of the SwissTech Convention Center  — a location that became the first public building to install the DSCs technology in 2012.

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