Solar Glasses Generate Solar Power

These solar glasses with lens-fitted semitransparent organic solar cells supply two sensors and electronics in the temples with electric power. (Source: KIT)

Organic solar cells are flexible, trans­parent, and light-weight – and can be manu­factured in arbitrary shapes or colors. Thus, they are suitable for a variety of appli­cations that cannot be realized with conventional silicon solar cells. Researchers from KIT now present sun­glasses with colored, semi­transparent solar cells applied onto lenses that supply a micro­processor and two displays with elec­tric power. This paves the way for other future appli­cations such as the inte­gration of organic solar cells into windows or overhead glazing.

“We bring solar power to places where other solar techno­logies fail,” says Alexander Colsmann, Head of Organic Photo­voltaics Group at KIT’s Light Tech­nology Insti­tute (LTI). The “smart” solar glasses designed as a case study by the scientist and his team at KIT, is self-powered to measure and display the solar illu­mination intensity and ambient tempera­ture. The solar cell lenses, perfectly fitted to a commercial frame, have a thickness of approx. 1.6 millimeters and weigh about six grams – just like the lenses of tradi­tional sunglasses. The micro­processor and the two small displays are integrated into the temples of the solar glasses. They show the illu­mination intensity and the ambient tempera­ture as bar graphs. The solar glasses also work in indoor environ­ments under illumi­nation down to 500 Lux, which is the usual illumination of an office or a living area. Under these condi­tions, each of the “smart” lenses still generates 200 micro­watt of electric power – enough to operate devices such as a hearing aid or a step counter.

“The solar glasses we developed are an example of how organic solar cells may be employed in appli­cations that would not be feasible with conven­tional photo­voltaics,” stresses PhD student Dominik Landerer who largely contri­buted to the development of the solar glasses at the Material Research Center for Energy Systems of KIT. In the eyes of the engineer, these solar cells, which are based on hydro­carbons, are very exciting devices due to their mecha­nical flexi­bility and the oppor­tunity to adapt their color, transpa­rency, shape, and size to the desired appli­cation.

According to Colsmann, another field of appli­cation is the inte­gration of solar cells into buildings: Since the glass facades of high-rise buildings must often be shaded, it is an obvious option to use organic solar modules for trans­forming the absorbed light into electric power. A future vision for the engineer, who works on the basic under­standing of organic solar cell and semi­conductor compo­nents at the Material Research Center for Energy Systems, is to coat large surfaces with organic solar cells using reel-to-reel tech­nology. (Source: KIT)

Reference: D. Landerer et al.: Solar Glasses: A Case Study on Semitransparent Organic Solar Cells for Self-Powered, Smart Wearable Devices, Energy Tech., online 13 June 2017; DOI: 10.1002/ente.201700226 

Link: Organic Photovoltaics Group, Light Technology Institute, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany

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