A new pair of solar-powered glasses is changing the way energy experts think about solar panels. Not only can these glasses run totally on solar energy, they can also be used to charge mobile devices.
Students and professors at the German university Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are behind these revolutionary glasses. The scientists used "organic solar cells" to power the glasses' microprocessor.
With enough electricity, wearers can see both the ambient temperature and solar illumination intensity displayed in bars on these glasses. If the wearer so chooses, s/he can send some of this energy from the glasses into a nearby mobile device.
The success of these glasses is due to the use of organic solar cells. In contrast to more common silicon solar cells, organic cells are light and transparent. Also, scientists can easily manufacture organic solar cells in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
These solar glasses have been shown to work effectively both indoors and outdoors. The minimal illumination needed to power these glasses is 500 Lux, which is typical for an office setting. Researchers say their glasses can extract around 200 microwatts of energy indoors. This energy could be used to charge smaller devices like hearing aids.
Since these glasses were fitted with solar cells, the frames are a bit thicker than average glasses. The total weight of these glasses is six grams and the thickness measures around 1.5 millimeters. Most of the people who have seen these solar glasses compare them to average sunglasses.
The PhD students behind these glasses built them as part of a case study demonstrating the versatility of organic solar cells. They hope this project inspires other innovators to use organic solar cells in unique and productive ways.
Another way scientists are using organic solar cells is to collect energy on high-rise buildings. Instead of just putting solar panels on the tops of roofs, solar experts are interested in incorporating organic cells onto glass window frames.
Technicians at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have actually run a few tests trying to put organic solar cells into windows and mobile electronics. These experiments are still ongoing in the university's Microsystems Technology Laboratories.
Some engineers are looking into whether or not they can put organic solar cells on reel-to-reel technology. This research is being conducted at the Material Research Center for Energy Systems at KIT.
Dr. Alexander Colsmann, the head of KIT's Organic Photovoltaics Group, was a lead author on this study. He told reporters that this new research proves we can "bring solar power to places where other solar technologies fail."
KIT is one of Germany's largest public universities dedicated to technological research. First established under the name Fridericiana Polytechnic in 1825, the university now teaches around 25,000 undergrads and postgrads. KIT is located near the French-German border in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe.
For more information on this study, you can check out the full report in a recent edition of Energy Technology. Study authors entitled this paper "Solar Glasses: A Case Study on Semitransparent Organic Solar Cells for Self-Powered, Smart, Wearable Devices."