At Brightlands Materials Center we develop various new solutions for optimized use of sunlight and solar heat in the built environment. We asked expert Daniel Mann 5 questions about SunPrism, a structural color coating that enables the construction of colored glass facades that harvest solar energy. Meaning more electricity can be harvested and aesthetics improve drastically for the better.
Daniel Mann, Scientist at Brightlands Materials Center and TNO, develops, together with his team, innovative solutions for optimized use of sunlight and solar heat in the built environment implementing their expertise in optics, coatings, pigments & colloids, polymers and nano-composites for a sustainable future.
1. What exactly is SunPrism and where can this be applied?
SunPrism is a structural color coating, for the cover glass of solar panels. The coating adds a metallic sparkling color to the panels. This offers architects and homeowners freedom-of-design and enables the construction of colored glass facades that harvest solar energy. The coating can be designed for any color that the customer chooses including architecturally relevant colors such as terracotta and light grey.
2. What are the advantages of SunPrism compared to other coloration techniques for solar panels?
Most traditional coloration techniques rely on absorbing pigments to create a color. This significantly reduces a solar panels efficiency and power output. SunPrism works with specular reflection of specific wavelengths. This leads to a sparkling, metallic appearance, whilst having a high color intensity at low overall reflection.
Therefore, solar panels with SunPrism cover glass have a visually pleasing and customizable appearance whilst retaining high efficiencies and power output.
3. Why produce glass in alternative colors instead of the traditional black and blue?
We all know that to move towards a climate neutral built environment, we need to employ much more solar panels on our buildings. But attaching regular solar panels to roofs, as done for several years now, is aesthetically quite unattractive. This discourages many architects and homeowners from employing solar panels.
SunPrism increases the design possibilities for architects to include solar panels in roofs and facades of various colors. They can be seamlessly integrated without standing out of the full construction and are less bulky in appearance. Additionally, solar panels with SunPrism cover glass can be used to construct colored glass facades that cover a significant part of a building’s electricity
4. How come the power output of SunPrism is 20% higher than for modules colored with traditional pigments?
SunPrism is a structural color coating. That means the appearance of color is not created by light absorption, but by a microscopic nanostructure that leads to interference effects and selective light reflection. The structural color effect is inspired by nature and is for example responsible for the blue color of the morpho butterfly.
The selective reflection can be limited to a narrow wavelength region and since reflecting colors are perceived as more intense, the overall reflection can be kept to a minimum. Therefore, only a very small part of the sunlight is used to create color, leaving the remaining part for the solar panel to harvest energy.
5. Is it ready to market?
Current status is demonstrated on pilot scale in test buildings (TRL 7) and will now be developed to demonstration in occupied buildings (TRL 8). Soon 300 colored PV panels will be demonstrated and monitored for one year in occupied buildings in south of Limburg. This will be finalized in 2023.
SunPrism cannot be ordered yet, but companies can soon participate in commercialization and bringing it to the market.