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Coating May Power Up Tablet Screens

Friday, March 1, 2013

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Electronics users who panic at being stranded without a charger may find reassurance in an energy-harvesting coating being developed by an MIT spinoff company.

Ubiquitous Energy, of Cambridge, MA, is a technology start-up that is developing a portfolio of light-harvesting technologies, including transparent photovoltaic coatings and films for tablets, e-readers and other products.

Co-founded by Vladimir Bulovi, Ph.D., director of the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratory, Ubiquitous Energy has already won several awards for its technology—including, most recently, a $409,800 National Science Foundation grant for co-founder Richard Lunt to pursue the development of transparent photovoltaics.

Tablet screen

Transparent photovoltaics may help tablet users cut the charger cord someday.

'Spectrally Selective'

The technology is similar to that used for solar calculators, but complicated by the much greater demands for energy and coating transparency, officials say.

As explained by MIT Reviewthe company’s photovoltaics take a “spectrally selective approach” to light harvesting.

“They collect wavelengths in the ultraviolet and infrared portion of the spectrum but let visible light pass through,” the publication reports. “Traditional solar cells, in contrast, collect light in the ultraviolet and visible regions and therefore can’t be made completely transparent.”

The company’s transparent solar cells “are made of various organic layers, deposited one at a time on top of a glass or film”—a process that could  “easily be integrated into thin-film deposition systems found in industrial processing,” MIT Review explains.

Miles Barr, PhD Vladimir Bulovic, PhD
Ubiquitous Energy

Ubiquitous Energy co-founders Miles Barr (left) and Vladimir Bulovi are working to increase the transparency and efficiency of their photovoltaic films.

A 2011 paper by the company's co-founders published in Applied Physics Letters reported that prototypes made of organic materials yielded efficiencies between 1 percent and 2 percent and a visible transparency of greater than 65 percent. (Building windows usually require transparencies from 55 to 90 percent, while mobile electronic displays require 80 to 90 percent, MIT Review reports.)

The article, "Transparent, near-infrared organic photovoltaic solar cells for window and energy-scavenging applications," has become one of the journal's most-cited papers ever.

Powering the Power Hungry

The team is working to improve both efficiency and transparency, Barr told MIT Review.

“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,” he said. “Once you hit 10 percent efficiency, a lot of applications open up.”

The company’s future products and pricing are still under wraps.


Tagged categories: Coating chemistry; Energy efficiency; Photovoltaic coatings; Solar energy

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