Richard Lunt / Courtesy Michigan State University

A team of engineering researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have developed a highly transparent solar material for a variety of applications, including windows, vehicles, and cell phones. Made from organic molecules, the "plastic-like" tiles can be "tuned" to absorb infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths of light and convert them into electricity.

Through their research, the team found that there is likely 54 billion to 75 billion square feet of glass-covered surface in the United States. Thus, application of "transparent solar technologies have the potential of supplying some 40 percent of energy demand in the U.S.," according to a press release. "Widespread use of such highly transparent solar applications, together with the rooftop units, could nearly meet U.S. electricity demand and drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels."

Led by MSU's Johansen Crosby Endowed associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science Richard Lunt, the research was launched back in 2011. Nearly six years in, Lunt believes there is still work to be done. "Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential," he said on the release. "Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible."

MSU researcher Richard Lunt.
Kurt Stepnitz / Courtesy Michigan State University MSU researcher Richard Lunt.