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Making multifunctional windows

By Paul Grad |

Concern with energy efficiency has increased the popularity of window glass coatings that control the amount of sunlight that passes through, as well as windows made of thin solar cells that can turn them into electricity generators. Now researchers from South China University of Technology (Guangzhou, China; www.scut.edu.cn), led by professors Hin-Lap Yip and Fei Huang, have combined those two functions.

The researchers had to perform a three-way balancing act between harvesting light for electricity generation, blocking some of the light for efficient heating, and allowing normal transmission through the window. To do this, they developed a dual-function semitransparent organic photovoltaic (ST-OPV) device that is highly efficient and also very effective for heat insulation. A non-fullerene acceptor was introduced with enhanced near-infrared (NIR) absorption and distributed Bragg reflectors for selectively enhancing the transmittance of visible wavelengths while maintaining high reflectance for NIR.

According to the researchers, the ST-OPV devices generate over 6% power conversion efficiency with high visible light (more than 25%) transmission and an outstanding IR-rejection rate of more than 80%. In theory, the researchers say, installing windows outfitted with dual electricity-generating and heat-insulating capacity could cut an average household’s reliance on external sources of electricity by more than 50%.

“We have not even used the best organic photovoltaics available,” says Yip, adding that their efficiency is improving rapidly. This is only the beginning of exploring new applications of organic photovoltaics, continues Yip. “A version tailored for self-powered greenhouses is only one of many impactful products that we want to develop in the future.”

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