Windows that catch rays – and make solar energy – are getting closer

Minnesota research may provide the key that makes solar windows practical.

Windows let sunlight in. But what if they also held onto some of it so we could use that solar energy later?

Scientists thought of this a long time ago but have been having trouble coming up with an energy-collecting window that's practical to make.

Now it looks like a process patented by the University of Minnesota might provide the link they've been missing.

The U of M's breakthrough

The key to windows that collect solar energy is something called an LSC. (It stands for luminescent solar concentrator.)

But making these things always meant using material that's either toxic or really hard to get. Until now.

It turns out the key is using silicon nanoparticles to make them. Silicon is not toxic and there's plenty of it. What's more, about a dozen years ago the U of M invented a way to shrink silicon crystals into nanoparticles, which is what you need for them to work in those LSCs.

It was a couple years ago when Uwe Kortshagen, a mechanical engineering professor at the U, got together with some Italian scientists who are experts at making those magical LSCs.

“We had the expertise in making the silicon nanoparticles and our partners in Milano had expertise in fabricating the luminescent concentrators. When it all came together, we knew we had something special,” Kortshagen said in a statement released by the U of M.

He's one of the authors of the article published in a scientific journal this week laying out what they've done.

Kortshagen says the windows they're working on would capture more than 5 percent of the sun's energy at a low cost. He tells KARE 11 he's hoping they'll be on the market in three to five years.

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