Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Something New Under the Sun?

Photovoltaics: Transparent solar cells could find killer app in consumer goods

Imagine a smart credit card that not only stores electronic money and records your transactions but also has its own energy source. Or a sun roof that delivers electricity to your car battery. Imagine each powered by flexible, ultrathin, see-through solar panels.

These scenarios may not be far off, thanks to a photovoltaic cell production process unveiled by Toshiba scientists in May at the 16th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Glasgow, Scotland. The Toshiba design is an improvement to the Graetzel cell, a new type of solar panel that relies on titanium dioxide nanocrystals coated with a dye. When struck by light, the dye “injects” energized electrons into the semiconducting titanium, which generates electrical power. Graetzel cells’ advantages over conventional silicon solar panels include transparency, low materials costs and the ability to operate efficiently under cloudy skies.

Earlier Graetzel designs, however, mostly relied on a liquid electrolyte to replenish the dye with electrons; this proved impractical because of the risk of leakage. Toshiba is the first to succeed in encapsulating liquid electrolyte in a durable solid-a “cross-linked” gel that can withstand temperatures of up to 120 C.

This story is part of our September/October 2000 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Shuzi Hayase, chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Power Supply Materials & Devices Laboratory in Kawasaki, says the cells achieve a respectable 7.3 percent solar-energy conversion efficiency and should be easy to manufacture. “We do not need expensive production lines and sophisticated vacuum systems currently employed in the manufacture of silicon-based cells. The new cells could be manufactured by [silk-screen] printing technologies.”

According to Michael Graetzel at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who invented the basic cell design in the early 1990s, the Toshiba development is “a very important step forward” towards simplifying dye-based cell production. During the next decade, he says, the technology should find its first uses in low-power applications such as sun-powered timepieces (watch manufacturer Swatch already has a prototype) and price scanners. At least seven companies in Japan, Europe and Australia are also developing improved Graetzel cells that may ultimately grace cellular phones, laptop computers and windows in energy-efficient homes.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.