USF unveils new solar energy device

In the search for new ways to efficiently use renewable

energy, USF researchers introduced a new solar energy device Thursday.

The device, Solar Window, was created by a team of researchers from the Department of Physics at USF. Lead researcher

Xiaomei Jiang and a team of six USF students created an electricity generating see-thru glass window with the help of a created organic photovoltaic solar cell, – solar cells that produce a voltage when exposed to radiant energy, especially light.

The new device can generate electricity by natural and artificial light, whereas before, most solar cells obtained energy from the natural light of the sun. They made Solar Window’s layers as thin as possible though they are working on increasing transparency, Jiang said.

Before the invention of the Solar Window, solar panels were opaque because the use of metals and other expensive processes prevented light from passing through the glass. The window’s materials are made from special semiconductors that can absorb light, she said.

“It is unbelievable and amazing. I can’t believe it when I see it,” said Patrick Toglia, a senior majoring in physics and member of the Jiang’s research group.

Through the demonstration, Jiang and Jason Lewis, a graduate student majoring in physics, showed that the fluorescent bulbs from a table lamp could generate enough electricity to light a small bulb.

Jiang opened the window blinds of the Science Center and, when sunlight reached the device, a red glow from the bulb inside was seen through the transparent glass.

A 4-by-4 inch glass window was used for the demonstration. It was filled with 50 organic solar cells in red color and was coated with a spray capable of generating electricity.

“It took us a lot of hard work to come here and accomplish what we have accomplished,” Jiang said.

Lewis said what makes the colored solar cell special is that it is semi-transparent, meaning it has the capabilities to let light pass through the solar cells and the glass.

John Conklin, the CEO of New Energy Technology, said this new device is important for three reasons: it can potentially offset greater amounts of energy in buildings, it has the capability to generate electricity indoors, as it can use artificial light, and it works well on low light conditions.

“Professor Jiang brings a lot with the development of the technology,” he said. “The relationship (between New Energy Technology and USF) was really fostered by her physics background, her research team and our ability to bring it to commercialization.”

The partnership with USF and New Energy Technology, a company focused on research, development and eventual commercialization of next-generation alternative technologies, began when representatives approached Jiang with the idea of creating a see-thru photovoltaic glass window for the company’s use.

This new technology took a little more than a year – from May 2009 until June 2010 – to complete with $645,000 in sponsorship money from New Energy Technology and Florida High Tech Corridor, a regional economic development initiative of USF, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida, whose mission is to grow high tech industry in the region through research, work force development and marketing programs.

As for the future of this technology, the team is working on how to increase the semi-transparency of the solar window. Because of the metal contact on the organic solar cells, it’s difficult to make the device fully transparent. They are also working on the next phase of the project, which is to develop a flexible solar window, – one that can be put on existing glass windows, Lewis said.

Evan Lafalce, a graduate student in applied physics, said he is working on creating a blue color version of the solar cell.

“It is very exciting, and the potential for this technology is unlimited. We really cannot put a ceiling to it,” he said.

Conklin said Solar Window will go through more advanced research before it can be manufactured in large scale.

“We are advancing the technology through 2011,” he said. “We are looking at the manufacturability, durability and the market sector analysis. We want to be able to build it in such a way that our next step is commercialization.”