Physicists Discover a Way to Power Your Home Through Windows

Last year, a team of researchers from the University of Columbia discovered that when you coat tiny pieces of glass with ultra-thin layers of a metal like silver, you could improve the amount of light traversing the glass. Making it possible to embed advanced technologies to glass and window panes.

This year, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Milano-Bicocca have made headway in embedding energy-harvesting technology in Windows. By incorporating silicon nanoparticles to glass, windows could effectively serve as energy harvesters apart from being an inlet for rays of sunlight.

The technology has been in the works for some time now but only recently was scientists able to develop a technique for embedding the silicon-based nanoparticles into LSCs—luminescent solar concentrators. Through this system, it’s possible to trap useful light frequencies and redirect to them solar cells located on the edge of the windows where they can be absorbed.

Silicon is a suitable non-toxic element that is widely available, unlike lead, cadmium or indium which were used to make complex nanostructures for the same purpose a while back. Also, since the amount of silicon needed is very small—each particle contains less than 2,000 atoms, it wouldn’t have mattered if silicon was toxic.

According to Samantha Ehrenberg, a mechanical Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the research, the silicon powder is changed into an ink-like solution which is then embedded into a polymer which can either form a sheet of plastic material that is flexible or coat a surface using a thin film.

The combination of solar cells with solar concentrators is nothing new. However, the addition of silicon-based nanoparticles into the formula has opened up a lot of unprecedented real-world applications. The extraordinary compatibility of the optical properties of silicon-based nanoparticles with the simple industrial processes of manufacturing LSCs has essentially brought us significantly closer to realizing the possibility of making inexpensive photovoltaic windows which can absorb a considerable amount of energy.

According to the first author of the paper, Francesco Meinardi, who is also a professor of physics at the University of Milano-Bicocca, stated that LSC-based photovoltaic windows could be used to replace conventional building materials for building envelopes such as skylights, roofs, and facades.  Silicon-based photovoltaic windows eliminate the potential pitfalls of using alternative classes of nanoparticles made from rare materials.

LSC-based photovoltaic windows would mean that building wouldn’t have to compromise on sustainability for aesthetics which are crucial for metropolitan buildings. Photovoltaic cells would be embedded in the edges of the window allowing them to blend seamlessly with the structure.

As a result, using renewable energy technology in the construction industry will be easy and considering that skyscrapers are popping up like mushrooms in urban centers this could see whole cities transformed into functional solar farms.

I don’t know about you, but I will be first in line to integrate these LSC-based photovoltaic windows in my home.

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