Spray on solar cells and panels
What you need to capture energy, is a new coat of paint!
The science of converting sunlight into electrical energy is more than a century old, but the reality of doing it efficiently and affordably is ongoing.
Have you seen those big, bulky, breakable photovoltaic cells that now collect the sun's rays? Well, what if solar energy could be harnessed using tiny collectors that could be spray painted on a roof, a wall or even a window? That’s what precisely what is called a spray on solar panel.
Right now, most solar cells and electronic displays are made with silicon. And while the substance makes for effective technology, it lacks some key attributes: For one, it’s costly. Solar panels, for eg, the technology most commonly associated with solar energy, are installed on our roof. The cost of collecting one kilo watt per hour of solar energy (about a third of the electricity an average household uses on any given day) is about $11,000. Second, it requires quite a bit of power and third, it’s very rigid.
Not only are panels expensive to install, they capture only the visible portion of the sun’s rays so they work only on sunny days.
How is it solved?
- Making solar cells and displays from an organic semiconductor is cheaper, requires less power and it allows products to bend and fold. Plus, think about all the parts and construction materials that could be saved if electronics could be simply sprayed onto a surface.
- This technology also focuses on the infrared portion of the sun’s rays which accounts for more than half of all solar energy. What’s more, infrared energy is available to us even in cloudy weather.
All current users of solar panels could potentially move to spray on solar cell technology.
This technology could literally be woven into every aspect of daily life, from our clothes to our roads. This new method has the potential to boost the applications of solar power exponentially.
The solar "paint" would have the same function as the large photovoltaic (PV) solar collectors on buildings and "solar farms" around the world. This paint, made of CIGS nanocrystals, can be sprayed on plastic, glass and even fabric to create a solar cell. Like paint, the composite can be sprayed onto other materials and used as portable electricity.
A sweater coated in the material could power a cell phone or other wireless devices. A hydrogen-powered car painted with the film could potentially convert enough energy into electricity to continually recharge the car's battery.
Researchers envision that one day "solar farms" consisting of the plastic material could be rolled across deserts to generate enough clean energy to supply the entire planet's power needs.
The market is fairly huge. If commercialized at a big scale, we can see 5 million commercial buildings and 80 million single homes being agents for solar energy capture. The numbers indicated above are the approximate number of buildings in America, predicted by the Energy Information Administration.
How far from commercialization
The process is still in the works – at present, the prototypes that have been developed can only convert 1% of the sunlight that hits the cell into electricity. The goal conversion is 10%, so there is still quite a way to go. It may hit the market in 5 to 10 years.
Owing to the semi-transparent nature, these nanocrystals bring used in paints, they can be used in making windows.
In February 2011, a Columbian company called New Energy Technologies Inc., have developed a prototype that uses a room temperature transparent spray-on photosensitive film that can produce energy from both natural and artificial light.
Spray on solar cells is cheaper
Spray-on solar cells may sound like a high-end development, but the technology actually stands to be cheaper than traditional solar panels. The sun provides a nearly unlimited energy resource, but existing solar energy harvesting technologies are prohibitively expensive and cannot compete with fossil fuels.
This breakthrough has led theorists to believe that plastic solar cells could one day become 5 times more efficient than current solar cell technology.
Researchers at New Energy Technologies designed a 4- story building. They estimated an annual cost-savings of $40,000 to $70,000 when installing the company’s Solar Window to exposed window facades, which they contrasted with a polycrystalline silicon module installation on the rooftop that would produce $20,000 in energy savings per year.
The technology has been patented by a Norwegian company called Ensol AS. Presently, the company is working with scientists at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in UK. The university has the provision to manufacture small amounts of the solar cell material. The company is expecting to develop the cells commercially by 2016.
In January 2010, New Energy Technologies Inc., announced the development of their patent-pending process of spraying solar cells onto glass. The company calls the product “Solar Window and employs organic solar polymers measuring less tham\n 1/4th the size of a rice grain. These polymers that are present on the coating are 0.1 microns thick and exhibit an amazing 2x, 8x and 10x more output power density when compared to a simple monocrystalline silicon solar cell, copper-indium-selenide, and a thin amorphous silicon respectively.
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