Are Smart Windows the Next Generation of Solar Energy?

element 52, 52, element, tellurium,

Glass Made of Element 52, Tellurium, Is a Surprising Semiconductor

Scientists have successfully transformed glass made from tellurium (element 52) into a light-powered semiconductor.

  • Tellurite glass was exposed to ultrafast pulses of high-energy laser light.
  • Minuscule crystals of tellurium and tellurium oxide, both semiconducting materials, were created within the glass.

Researchers have successfully transformed tellurite (element 52) glass into a light-powered semiconductor using a femtosecond laser.

Published in the journal Physical Review Applied, the research detailed how they used tellurite glass, which contains tellurium, and subjected it to ultrafast pulses of high-energy laser light.

Tellurium is rare and expensive. So, despite its very attractive properties, element 52’s use cases are very limited. Outside its niche uses, however, you can find it in some advanced dental imaging systems.

The researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Tokyo Institute of Technology exposed the glass to a femtosecond laser, the same used in certain eye surgeries (Cataract and Lasik). As a result, they found that minuscule crystals of tellurium and tellurium oxide were created, precisely where the light made contact.

Both the tellurium and its oxide are semiconducting materials. In other words, the tellurite glass could generate electricity when exposed to daylight and remained stable for months without degradation.

Yves Bellouard, head of EPFL’s Galatea Laboratory, expressed excitement about the discovery and its potential applications. “An interesting twist to the technique is that no additional materials are needed in the process. All you need is tellurite glass and a femtosecond laser to make an active photoconductive material,” he explained.

While the technology is, admittedly, still in its infancy, it’s very promising. Eventually, they will scale it to a more practical size. Once that’s done, the possibilities are endless.

Smart windows that can generate electricity are one of the most useful and ingenious ideas. Picture this, instead of bulky solar panels on your roof, you get nice clean windows. A skyscraper whose exterior is mostly glass, like Burj Khalifa, could generate enough power to keep itself going. Combine that with the carbon-cement supercapacitor, and these massive constructions could be self-efficient.

Another use for these windows could be for electrical vehicles (EVs). These cars rely on electricity to function, obviously. But what if instead of going to a “gas” station, we just park it in the sun? You get some vitamin D, and it charges. Or better yet, on a long trip, the sun powers it as you drive. Although the latter may not be so smart considering the sun is nowhere to be seen for the better portion of the day.

Greenhouses and agricultural structures could benefit as well. It would generate the electricity needed for the smart technology while also allowing sufficient light for plant growth.

Basically, you can easily integrate this anywhere that has windows, is exposed to the sun, and needs to have electricity.

Inside Telecom provides you with an extensive list of content covering all aspects of the tech industry. Keep an eye on our Tech sections to stay informed and up-to-date with our daily articles.