Humans Going Green
Researchers develop paint-on solar cells.
Australian researchers have developed solar panels which can be painted or printed directly onto a surface. The project is one of several initiatives which have the potential to revolutionize solar energy by eliminating the need for bulky panels which need to be attached to buildings. With help from the CSIRO, University of Melbourne PhD student Brandon MacDonald has worked out how to make solar cells so small they can be suspended in liquid, such as ink.
“We can then apply this ink onto a surface, so this could be glass or plastics or metals,” Mr MacDonald told AM. “What we could do is actually integrate these into the building as it’s being made, so you can imagine solar windows, or having it actually be part of the roofing material.”
These solar panels will be made of nano-crystals which have a diameter of just a few millionths of a millimetre. Mr MacDonald says they will use just 1 per cent of the materials needed to make traditional solar panels. “With these inks, and eventually trying to print the cells on a large scale, we hope that we’ll make it so that this technology is cost-competitive with traditional energy sources.”
Mr MacDonald hopes the new technology will be two to three times cheaper than solar cells currently on the market. And he is hoping the print-on solar panel will be on the market in about five years. An Australian-based company has already taken a big step towards the large scale marketing of a very similar product. Solar developer Dysol has struck a deal with steel giant Tata Steel to develop building products, such as steel girders and roofing panels, with solar panels embedded in the surface.
Dysol’s founder, Sylvia Tulloch, says the product should be ready to go in two years. “I think a third generation solar, where we talk about processes that enable us to integrate solar layers into all sorts of everyday products and particularly into building products – so roofs, or walls or windows that have layers on them that generate electricity,” she said. Kane Thornton from the Clean Energy Council says the reduced cost will be revolutionary.
The breakthrough is expected to decrease the cost of solar technology by another 30% making it more affordable for governments and middle class families.