Solar panel window quantum dot
Researchers created transparent solar cells using quantum dots.Los Alamos National Laboratory

Windows that double as solar panels could soon be a reality following a breakthrough in quantum dot research that could have significant implications on the way the sun's energy is harvested in the future.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Milano-Bicocca synthesised a new generation of quantum dots that they were able to embed in a transparent polymer to capture the sun's energy.

Quantum dots - nanocrystals made of semiconductor materials - are already used in solar panel systems due to their low-cost and mechanical properties, as well as transistors, LEDs and lasers.

"The key accomplishment is the demonstration of large-area luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) that use a new generation of specially engineered quantum dots," said Victor Klimov, lead researcher at the Centre of Advanced Solar Photophysics at Los Alamos.

Solar panel
Quantum dots capture sunlight and transport it through the plastic matrix to the solar cell on the edge.Los Alamos

The findings, published in Nature Photonics, demonstrate how a slab of transparent LSC material is able to capture and transport light energy through quantum dots.

"The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell, and this increases its power output," said Klimov.

Sunlight captured is radiated through the LSC towards a small solar cell on the slab's edge, which increases power efficiency in a way that could have broad applications in future solar cells.

Sergio Brovelli, a researcher involved in the study at the University of Milano-Bicocca, said: "LSCs are especially attractive because in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts, such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy generation units."