Colorful solar panels could make tech more appealing

Solar panels aren’t just for rooftops anymore – some buildings even feature these energy-generating structures all over their facades. However, as more and more buildings and public spaces incorporate photovoltaic technologies, their monotonous black color could leave onlookers indifferent. Researchers, whose work is published in ACS Nano, have created solar panels that take on colorful hues while producing power almost as efficiently as traditional panels.

Solar panels are usually deep black because their function is to absorb light, whereas a red car appears red because the finish reflects red light instead of absorbing it. Most attempts to color these devices therefore diminish their ability to absorb light and produce energy. An alternative is to use structural sources of color that take advantage of microscopic shapes to reflect only a very narrow and selective portion of light, such as the scales of butterfly wings.

However, previous technologies to incorporate structural color gave panels an unwanted iridescence or were expensive to implement on a large scale. Tao Ma, Ruzhu Wang and their colleagues therefore wanted to develop a way to give color to solar panels using a structural material that would be easy and inexpensive to apply, while maintaining their ability to produce energy efficiently.

The team sprayed a thin layer of a material called photonic glass onto the surfaces of the solar cells. The glass consisted of a thin, disordered layer of microscopic zinc sulfide dielectric spheres. Although most light rays can pass through photonic glass, selective colors are reflected depending on the size of the spheres. Using this approach, researchers created solar panels that took on blue, green, and purple hues while reducing power generation efficiency by 22.6% to 21.5%. They also found that solar panels made with this layer of photonic glass retained their color and performance in standard durability tests, and that manufacturing could be scaled. Researchers plan to investigate ways to make colors more saturated, as well as methods to achieve a wider color gamut.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a non-profit organization created by the United States Congress. The mission of ACS is to advance the broader chemical enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of the Earth and all its inhabitants. The company is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple search solutions, peer-reviewed journals, of his scientific lectures, e-books and weekly periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, trusted and widely read in the scientific literature; however, the ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing scientific knowledge from around the world. The principal offices of the ACS are in Washington, DC, and in Columbus, Ohio.

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