Researchers led by Richard Lunt, EG04, who earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in chemical engineering, are working on a solar energy project they hope is easy for others to see right through.
The team at Michigan State University, where Lunt is an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, has developed a new type of solar concentrator. When placed over a window, the concentrator creates solar energy while allowing a clear view through that window.
Called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, it can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface. Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new, but past efforts have yielded poor results—the energy production was inefficient, and the materials were highly colored.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” Lunt says. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco.”
The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. The research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
The technology is at an early stage, Lunt says, and more work is needed to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Ultimately, he says, “We want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”