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MIT spinoff dyes glass to make solar 'windows'

Covalent Solar will commercialize a technique that concentrates light by redirecting it via dyes. The results are a ten-fold boost in solar cell output, lowering panel costs.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology detailed a technique that can boost solar cell output and turn colored windows into solar panels.

Published in Science magazine on Friday, the researchers have developed a way to use dyes painted on glass to redirect light.

By stacking multiple concentrators, you can optimize plates for different wavelengths. Solar cells will be placed along the edges of the plates, reducing the amount of solar cell material needed, and thus the cost of a panel. MIT

By pushing light to the edges and filtering it, they can concentrate the light and squeeze more electricity from photovoltaic solar cells.

The cells are placed on the edges of the glass, rather than across the flat surface of glass, which would allow panel manufacturers to use less costly solar cell material.

It's a technique that was pursued in the 1970s but abandoned because not enough redirected light made it to the cells on plate edges.

By borrowing laser technology, the MIT researchers said they adequately direct and concentrate light to the point where they can boost solar cell output ten-fold.

The technology, which uses off-the-shelf dyes used in car paints, promises to be cheaper than traditional solar concentrators because it eliminates the need for mirrors, lenses, and trackers, said Marc Baldo, an MIT professor of electrical engineering who led the work.

Participants in the research are starting a company, Covalent Solar, to commercialize and improve the technology. MIT said that they expect to have a product available in about three years.