Transparent PV Material May Find Use in Windows

Brookhaven

Brookhaven researchers (left to right) Mircea Cotlet, Ranjith Krishna Pai and Zhihua Xu. Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory have fabricated transparent thin films capable of absorbing light and generating electric charge over a relatively large area. The material, described in the journal Chemistry of Materials, could be used to develop transparent solar panels or even windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity.

The material consists of a semiconducting polymer doped with carbon-rich fullerenes. Under controlled conditions, the material self-assembles to form a reproducible pattern of micron-size hexagon-shaped cells over a relatively large area (up to several millimeters).

“Though such honeycomb-patterned thin films have previously been made using conventional polymers like polystyrene, this is the first report of such a material that blends semiconductors and fullerenes to absorb light and efficiently generate charge and charge separation,” said lead scientist Mircea Cotlet, a physical chemist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

Furthermore, the material remains largely transparent because the polymer chains pack densely only at the edges of the hexagons, while remaining loosely packed and spread very thin across the centers. “The densely packed edges strongly absorb light and may also facilitate con- ducting electricity,” Cotlet explained, “while the centers do not absorb much light and are relatively transparent.”

“Combining these traits and achieving large-scale patterning could enable a wide range of practical applications, such as energy-generating solar windows, transparent solar panels and new kinds of optical displays,” said co-author Zhihua Xu, a materials scientist at the CFN.

“Imagine a house with windows made of this kind of material, which, combined with a solar roof, would cut its electricity costs significantly. This is pretty exciting,” Cotlet said.

The scientists fabricated the honeycomb thin films by creating a flow of micrometer-size water droplets across a thin layer of the polymer/fullerene-blend solution. These water droplets self-assembled into large arrays within the polymer solution. As the solvent completely evaporates, the polymer forms a hexagonal honeycomb pattern over a large area.

“This is a cost-effective method, with potential to be scaled up from the laboratory to industrial-scale production,” Xu said.

The research was supported at Los Alamos by the Department of Energy Office of Science. The work was also carried out in part at the CFN and the Center for Integrated Nano-technologies Gateway to Los Alamos (CINGLA) facility. The Brookhaven team included Mircea Cotlet, Zhihua Xu and Ranjith Krishna Pai. Collaborators from Los Alamos include Hsing-Lin Wang and Hsinhan Tsai, who are both users of the CFN facilities at Brookhaven, Andrew Dattelbaum from the CINGLA facility, and project leader Andrew Shreve of the Materials Physics and Applications Division.

The CFN and CINGLA are two of the five DOE Nano- scale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Access the article at bit.ly/gPPDXZ.

—BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

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