On a Clear Day, I Can See My iPad

Dr. Brien Seeley, President of the CAFE Foundation, shared the news of an exciting breakthrough that could make the see-through parts of an airplane’s solar collectors.  Most solar collectors have a black or near-black look because they are absorbing light in the visible spectrum.  Pulling energy from infrared or ultraviolet spectra invisible to the human eye allows Ubiquitous Energy’s Clearview Power translucent film of to be laid over iPad and Kindle screens and keep them charged constantly.

Ubiquitous Energy’s head Miles Barr holds see-through solar cell his company is developing

Consider the possibilities of such films covering the Plexiglas or carbonate canopies on aircraft.  Even those portions could then be energy collectors.  On craft such as electric sustainer motor powered sailplanes, the glazed area comprises a large part of the total fuselage surface area.

According to the MIT Technology Review, “…The transparent solar cells are made of various organic layers, deposited one at a time on top of a glass or film. This process could easily be integrated into thin-film deposition systems found in industrial processing. Many modern windows, for instance, have some sort of coating for solar control or insulation; [founder and President Miles] Barr envisions his company’s solar cells being manufactured and added similarly.”

Currently able only to generate enough power to keep small electronic devices charged, Clearview Power may one day charge buildings and airplanes

With transparency currently at about 70 percent for the product and energy-collecting efficiency at only two percent, Barr acknowledges that more work is needed to improve both numbers.  In the meantime, “’We’re getting a catalogue of device structures and ingredients for higher-efficiency devices that can power more power-hungry devices or offset energy for buildings,’ says Miles. ‘Once you hit 10 percent efficiency, a lot of applications open up.’ The company hopes to achieve efficiencies greater than 10 percent at “high visible transparency.”

Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, thinks, “It’s definitely an interesting approach if the cost of such cells can be low enough and the stability of the materials is sufficient,” and who makes these comments as a non-affiliated observer.   She notes that by collecting infrared and ultraviolet light, Clearview Power filters the parts of the spectrum that people would like to avoid, another plus for canopies using this technology.

Clearview shows just a very slight tint on devices such as Kindles, and the company says it needs to fine tune things to make the film work on Retina-type displays.  With ongoing work on this new form of energy collector, we anticipate interesting developments at Ubiquitious Energy.

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