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Nanostructure films for more efficient solar cells and better eyeglasses

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September 20, 2009

Nanostructure films, resembling millions of tiny pyramids, reduce the reflectance of any l...

Nanostructure films, resembling millions of tiny pyramids, reduce the reflectance of any light that strikes the material. (Image by Seung-Yeol Han)

Nanotechnology applications are increasingly diverse - ranging from being used to acquire fingerprints, to their use in the field of spintronics or even to help in the fight against cancer. Now a team of chemical engineers at Oregon State University has invented new technology that allows them to coat various surfaces with “nanostructure films”, which could be used to make cheaper, more effective eyeglasses and eventually, more efficient solar cells.

The films reduce light reflectance and, when used in eyeglasses, would be capable of capturing more light, reducing glare and exposure to ultraviolet light. Although there are plastic coatings available that offer similar benefits, the nanostructure films will be able to be applied at a lower cost and eventually, in a dispenser’s office.

The coating process involves a chemical bath, which is controlled by a microreactor, to create thin-film deposits on materials such as glass, plastic, silicon or aluminum. The nanostructure resembles millions of tiny pyramids in a small space which work together to reduce the reflectance of light hitting the material.

Currently, the scientists are applying the thin film to polycarbonate, which is the plastic most commonly used in eyeglass production. There are also plans to build a small unit which could be used in a dispenser’s office and would make the process less expensive. The researchers expect that their final product will be faster to apply, less costly and will perform more effectively than other materials.

Eventually, the technique could also be used to improve the efficiency of solar cells and in the manufacture of cameras and other lenses.

“There’s really a whole range of things this technology may ultimately be useful for,” said Chih-hung Chang, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “They should be able to make almost any type of solar energy system work more efficiently, and ultimately could be used in cameras or other types of lenses.”

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