Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Brands and wearable technology companies have to work together

Wearable technology is going to be propelled into the mass market by partnerships with brands, the CEO of a leading wearables company has said.

Sonny Vu, from Misfit Wearables, told Factor that it is important wearable technology companies work with leading brands in the future.

“When you come to the world of wearables it does matter because people do wear brands. Brands matter and these stories matter,” said Vu in an interview for next week’s issue of Factor Magazine.

The issue focuses on wearable technology and we hear from Vu about the future uses for wearable technology and how it is going to develop.

He said brands, their name and their look “is what people buy into and what people identify with.”

“I think there are going to be more and more partnerships between wearables and mainstream brands, fashion brands.”

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Image courtesy of Ralph Lauren

The collaboration between tech companies and fashion brands is one that is growing and there have already been a few instances of it happening specifically with wearable technology.

Ralph Lauren has teamed up with wearable company OMsignal to produce the ‘polo tech’ shirt, which is a branded sports shirt that can monitor an athlete’s biometric data while they are exercising.

Misfit itself has previously worked with jewellers Swarovski to produce a solar-powered wearable that is encased in jewellery.

Vu continued to say that the look of wearable technology is only going to become more important as the tech matures and has more functions.

“People are going to get tired of wearing cheap plastic crap,” he said.

“Some people will be OK with it because it is cheap and they get some good functionality out of it and that’s great and there’s quite a few people who are ok with it.”

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Image and featured image courtesy of Misfit

However, he went on to say that the look of the products does matter when it comes to wearables because they are on our bodies all the time and this is different to mobile phones.

“Unlike phones, you don’t really care what the brand is, you care if it an Apple because it has iOS and all the apps, and the Apple system.

“Otherwise if you have an Android you don’t really care whether it is an LG or a Samsung, you just want a phone that works really well and is cheap.”

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3D printed engine will fuel the first battery-powered rocket

This 3D printed engine uses batteries instead of liquid fuels and will be combined with other parts to form the first battery-powered rocket.

The Rutherford engine, made by Rocket Lab (a Lockheed Martin-funded spin-out), is made of components that take just three days to print and will be cheaper than traditional rockets.

In using batteries, the traditional pumps and pipes that would usually move fuel around the rocket are not needed.