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Smartphones may soon be able to run on sunlight. That is, if an invention by Korean scientists manages to gain enough traction.

According to an article published in the Journal of Power Sources on January 1, 2021, Professor Joondong Kim and his team from the Incheon National University in South Korea have discovered a way to make working transparent solar panels using titanium dioxide (TiO2) and nickel oxide (NiO).

Diagrams from the journal detailing the use of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and nickel oxide (NiO) in transparent solar cells. IMAGE: Science Direct

Titanium dioxide is a naturally-abundant material that is non-toxic and is considerably environmentally-friendly. With well-regarded semiconductor properties, it’s already used in the making of solar cells, absorbing ultraviolet (UV) light while letting other light wavelengths through.

Nickel oxide also has great semiconductor properties and is easily attainable, but another upside is that it also comes with high-optical transparency, hence the solar panel’s transparency.

Combining both yielded positive results even in low-light settings, and had a 2.1 percent power conversion efficiency, enabling the solar panels to power a small motor during testing. Crucially, the panels also allowed over 57 percent of visible light to pass through the solar cell’s layers, opening up avenues for more real-world use cases than conventional solar panels.

As opposed to other near-transparent solar cells available out there, Kim’s team claims that their creation is the very first to be completely see-through, and thus easily assimilated into consumer electronics like smartphones.

Transparent upgrade.

Until recently, solar panels have always been non-transparent. Despite being one of the cleanest means of attaining electrical energy, solar panels have mostly been confined to commercial applications, or mounted as peripheral panels on buildings.

Even when they have been placed in consumer electronics, solar panels have mainly appeared as small, unobtrusive squares or rectangles in low-powered devices such as calculators or wristwatches.

But now, with transparent solar panels proving viable, we could be seeing more applications in the real world. Hypothetically speaking, such transparent solar panels could double as smartphone screens, or be used in the windows of buildings or everyday vehicles, offering new opportunities for businesses to go green.

“While this innovative solar cell is still very much in its infancy, our results strongly suggest that further improvement is possible for transparent photovoltaics by optimizing the cell’s optical and electrical properties,” Kim said. “The unique features of transparent photovoltaic cells could have various applications in human technology.”

Carvey Ehren Maigue won the James Dyson Award for Global Sustainability in 2020 for creating solar panels that don’t require sunlight to work. IMAGE: Rappler

It seems as if there has been much advancements in the harnessing of solar energy, just last December, a Filipino man made headlines for inventing a solar panel that required little light to operate, winning the first-ever James Dyson Award for Global Sustainability in the process.

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Cover image sourced from pressfoto.

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