Energy-harvesting solar windows have been something of a Holy Grail for a long time. Various companies (such as Kyosemi and New Energy Technologies) have been hard at work on a prototype, and government scientists apparently have been, too, as researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory report that they have fabricated transparent thin films capable of absorbing light and generating electric charge.

The material, described in the journal Chemistry of Materials, consists of a semiconducting polymer souped up with carbon-rich fullerenes and works over relatively large surface areas. Under carefully controlled conditions, the material self-assembles to form a reproducible pattern of micron-size, honeycomb-like cells.

Brookhaven National Laboratory solar window
image via U.S. Department of Energy

Lead scientist Mircea Cotlet, a physical chemist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, said, in a statement, “Though such honeycomb-patterned thin films have previously been made using conventional polymers like polystyrene, this is the first report of such a material that blends semiconductors and fullerenes to absorb light and efficiently generate charge and charge separation.”  He goes on to note that the material remains largely transparent because the polymer chains pack densely only at the edges of the hexagon-shaped cells, while remaining loosely packed and spread very thin across the center.

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