Researchers at an energy focused start-up in Maryland have announced a lab breakthrough that could one day allow commercial buildings to coat conventional glass windows with a see-through film that generates renewable electricity.
New Energy Technologies is refining its technology for retrofitting conventional glass windows with a flexible plastic film. Scientists at the company have successfully sprayed electricity generating coatings onto lightweight polyethylene terephthalate plastics in its laboratory.
A proprietary process that the company calls SolarWindow was used to create the plastic solar films – at room temperature and at low pressure. It says its surface preparation effectively eliminates manufacturing hurdles that have prevented similar technologies from entering the marketplace.
Windows retrofitted with the film would generate energy from the sun’s visible light as well as artificial illumination, such as the fluorescent lighting. (See here to read a study about the SolarWindow process published in the American Institute of Physics.)
New Energy Technologies demonstrated SolarWindow last year when it prepared an application on glass, which subsequently generated electricity while remaining see-through. The company has spent the past year working toward commercial manufacturability, John A. Conklin, president and CEO of New Energy Technologies, said in a prepared statement.
“Concurrently, our research scientists have been working to create new and exciting SolarWindow products which reach beyond glass. The result is today’s announcement regarding our ability to generate electricity on flexible plastics,” Conklin added.
There are already some early adopters if SolarWindow proves successful. In March, Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) attached high power density photovoltaic glass units to the south side of the iconic building’s 56th floor.
New Energy Technologies faces competition from a Norwegian company called EnSol AS, which is likewise developing a thin-film-solar coating that adheres to building facades. Some other potential competitors are Chinese solar glassmaker Chin Hua and Pythagoras Solar ; both manufacture types of photovoltaic glass.
The salesperson in me is quivering in anticipation at the prospect of towering glass buildings throughout Manhattan and other urban centers converting their windows to solar power.