Covalent Solar to Commercialize Low-Cost Organic Solar Concentrators

Covalent Solar rendering

The innovators of this new technology, if they get it into production, may just be the green building revolutionaries of tomorrow.  At the end of the week, MIT engineers published research of new technology showing that the sun’s energy could be harvested from a large area, such as a window, and concentrated at the edges by solar cells.  With this so-called luminescent solar concentrator, the potential for low-cost electricity seems almost within reach.  Technically, here’s how it works: 

"The MIT solar concentrator involves a mixture of two or more dyes that is essentially painted onto a pane of glass or plastic. The dyes work together to absorb light across a range of wavelengths, which is then re-emitted at a different wavelength and transported across the pane to waiting solar cells at the edges."

The result is reduced light transport loss and about 10x more power converted by the solar cell. 

The MIT team led by Marc A. Baldo estimates that their technology increases the power obtained from solar cells by a factor of over 40.  Plus, it doesn’t require tracking equipment or cooling systems, resulting in a low-cost concentrator.

Going Commercial
To commercialize the technology, Covalent Solar, a company being spun out of MIT by three of its inventors (Michael Currie, Jon Mapel, and Shalom Goffri), will be working towards creating a more stable product for purchasers.  The team estimates that their new ideas can be implemented within three years.  See MIT Technology Review for a video of the prototype.

Colorful Windows?
I don’t want to speculate, but I’m wondering about light transmission if the technology is applied to windows in the built environment.  I’m sure more media information will clarify how the technology works in this context, but will light coming through be tinted as red, yellow, blue, green, or some other color?  Or will the dyes act like window tinting on a car, beneficial and unnoticeable to the occupants?  We’ll keep our eyes on the technology and keep you posted …

solar cells small

[+] Fact sheet: MIT’s solar concentrators
[+] MIT opens new ‘window’ on solar energy
[$] High-efficiency Organic Solar Concentrators for Photovoltaics

Image credits: Donna Coveney and Nicolle Rager Fuller

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  • S Horne

    Who cares what color how about other applications most noticeably in paints for cars that can have the solar panels either design inside the rear window or better yet on the bumper of the car. Really anywhere if this application works. With Toyota already beginning to implement solar panels to their Pruis, the technology is there and with this new possibility, the applications are limitless.

    • Preston

      S Horne – I see what you’re saying and agree: the possibilities are great. But indoor light quality is a big deal. Why do you think so many people have/had a hard time switching to CFLs? It’s important to know what the light is like on the inside of the building (after passing through the solar concentrator).

  • Arkizzle

    Is the colour an essential part of the system (eg, wavelength separation, or some such), or just a delivery system for the under-lying medium? Is it possible to use a clear, or almost clear, varient on the current dyes?

    I’m 100% sure the engineers have thought of this, but I’d like to know the mechanics of the interaction in the system, and how it relates to the colour dye.

    • Preston

      Arkizzle – yeah, I’m sure the dyes have all been figured out. The MIT Fact Sheet states: “We also introduced a new class of dye molecules, known as molecular phosphors, that are extremely transparent to their own light emission.” I’d like to explore that further.

      Relatedly there’s this article in Venture Beat where they say the concentrators would “modify the light entering the building, turning it odd colors and diminishing its strength. Call it a replacement for stained glass, perhaps.”

  • Khairul Syahir

    The technology would be most effective in huge building with lots of windows, like the Kuala Lumpur’s KLCC. Since most office buildings already have indoor lighting, even if the dye really does colourises the light that passes through it, it would act just like any other window tint.

    “Is the colour an essential part of the system (eg, wavelength separation, or some such), or just a delivery system for the under-lying medium? Is it possible to use a clear, or almost clear, varient on the current dyes?”

    Since colour of the light depends on its wavelength, therefore some colour have to be lost for the light wave to be absorbed. However, it may also be possible that the dye only absorbs light wavelength greater than UV (which has high frequency and therefore, higher energy than visible light and infrared) and let visible lights of wavelength 400nm – 700nm to pass through completely. That way, solar energy will still be absorbed and the window will still be transparent without any noticeable difference.

  • steve

    This is an old idea – many groups were hot on it in the 70s, but it died out as suitable dyes didn’t exist. It is encouraging to see a renewed interest!

  • Anonymous

    I keep hearing about a company called “Covelant Solar” b ut who and where are they ? where do you contact them

    • Preston

      Covalent Solar is explained above and you can get to them at

    • Tom

      Contact Green Renaissance LLC with further info on this product/ proposed product. We would like to start distributing this as soon as its available. It sounds awesome.. and runs along the same line of idea I had (plastics with different indexes of refraction stuck together to run light to high efficiency solar collectors on the edges… Imagine a truck driving up with a big roll of plastic, stretching it out over the roof, and a line of polycrystalline pv being bonded to it…. so quick so easy and perhaps so awesome….

  • Donalie G

    Solar applications are one thing the US government is handing out a TON of tax breaks for. With energy prices skyrocketing, its no surprise. The government is really trying to get people to participate via every angle. There’s eventax breaks for for people installing window tinting in their home. They say it saves up to 19% of energy costs.  I’d have to see something to believe that, but Im sure it saves something.  There is going to be a lot of developments on this in the future..its exciting.

  • Michael

    This is true. A lot of people have been noting that commercial window tint efforts have been ramping up a lot.

  • Michael

    This is true. A lot of people have been noting that commercial window tint efforts have been ramping up a lot.

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