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New type of solar panel in sight

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A revolutionary new type of transparent solar panel is the objective of joint research being done by the University of the Free State (UFS) and the Ghent University in Belgium.

The two universities entered into an agreement recently for this research into electricity generation.

The research is driven by the UFS and was prompted by the ever rising electricity price of and growing demand for electricity production.

Prof. Hendrik Swart, head of the Department of Physics at the UFS, says: “Any innovation to replace this necessity in our daily lives is welcome.”

Lucas Erasmus (left) and Prof. Hendrik Swart are doing joint research with the Ghent University in Bel­gium to find solutions for energy production.Photo: Supplied

Lucas Erasmus (left) and Prof. Hendrik Swart are doing joint research with the Ghent University in Bel­gium to find solutions for energy production.Photo: Supplied

The UFS envisages that not only will this research enlarge the international research footprint of the UFS, but it is also an attractive solution to address the energy demands of buildings, electric motor vehicles and mobile electronics without affecting their appearance.

According to Swart, the agreement entails a joint doctoral degree in which both universities will supervise the project and the awarding of the doctorate.

Lucas Erasmus, a student at the UFS, has been tasked with the assignment to conduct research at both institutions.

Swart explains the main objective of the research: “The idea with the research is to develop glass that is transparent to visible light, just like the glass you find in the windows of buildings, motor vehicles and mobile electronic devices.

“However, by incorporating the right phosphor materials inside the glass, the light from the sun that is invisible to the human eye (ultraviolet and infrared light) can be collected, converted and concentrated to the sides of the glass panel where solar panels can be mounted.”

“This invisible light can then be used to generate electricity to power buildings, vehicles and electronic devices. The invention is therefore a type of transparent solar panel.”

Swart says this technology can be implemented in the building environment to meet the energy demands of the people inside the buildings.

“The technology is also good news for the 4,7 billion cellphone users in the world, as it can be implemented in the screens of cellphones, where the sun or the ambient light of a room can be used to power the device without affecting its appearance,” he said.

Another possible application is in electric cars, where the windows can be used to help power the vehicle.

Erasmus adds: “We are also looking at implementing this idea into hard, durable plastics that can act as a replacement for zinc roofs.

“This will allow visible light to enter housing and the invisible light can then be used to generate electricity.

“The device also concentrates the light from a large area to the small area on the sides where the solar panels are placed; therefore, reducing the number of solar panels needed and in return, reducing the cost.”

It is envisaged that the technology will take about a decade to implement.

“This study is currently ongoing, and we are experimenting and testing different materials in order to optimise the device in the laboratory.

“After this, it needs to be upscaled in order to test it in the field. It is truly the techno­logy of the future,” says Erasmus.

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