South African scientists are working on a revolutionary new solar panel

Researchers from the University of the Free State (UFS) and Ghent University in Belgium are working on a revolutionary new type of window glass which will act as a transparent solar panel.

The research is being driven by UFS and was prompted by ever-rising electricity prices and growing demand for electricity production.

“An innovation like this which can help to replace traditional means of carbon-based fuel for power generation in our daily lives would be hugely welcome,” said Prof Hendrik Swart, senior professor in the Department of Physics at the University of the Free State.

“The idea is to develop glass that is transparent to visible light, just like the glass you find in the windows of buildings, motor vehicles and mobile electronic devices. However, by incorporating the right phosphor materials inside the glass, the light from the sun that is invisible to the human eye (ultraviolet and infrared light) can be collected, converted and concentrated to the sides of the glass panel where solar panels can be mounted.”

“This invisible light can then be used to generate electricity to power buildings, vehicles and electronic devices. The goal is therefore to create a type of transparent solar panel.”

Swart said this technology can be implemented in construction to meet the energy demands of the people inside the buildings.

“The technology is also good news for the 4.7 billion cell phone users in the world, as it can be implemented in the screens of cell phones, where the sun or the ambient light of a room can be used to power the device without affecting its appearance,” he said.

Another possible application is in electric cars, where the windows can be used to help power the vehicle.

Fellow researcher Lucas Erasmus said that the team was also looking to implement the technology directly into building materials.

“We are looking at implementing this idea into hard, durable plastics that can act as a replacement for zinc roofs,” he said.

“This will allow visible diffused light to enter housing and the invisible light can then be used to generate electricity. The device also concentrates the light from a large area to the small area on the sides where the solar panels are placed; therefore, reducing the number of solar panels needed and in return, reducing the cost.”

It is envisaged that the technology will take about a decade to refine and implement.

This study is currently on-going, and UFS are experimenting and testing different materials to optimise the device in the laboratory. It then needs to be upscaled to test it in the field.

“It is truly the technology of the future,” said Erasmus.

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South African scientists are working on a revolutionary new solar panel