May 14, 2013
Painting Solar Panels For The Future Of Energy Production
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers at the University at Buffalo are developing a technique that could allow for solar panels to be painted on some day.
The team wrote in the journal Advanced Materials they are helping to develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than today's solar panels. These devices are processed in liquid form and can be applied to a variety of surfaces.
“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering.
Solar power is produced with either thick polycrystalline silicon wafers or thin-film solar cells made up of inorganic materials in current models. Gan's research involves thin-film solar cells, but he uses organic materials like polymers and small molecules, which are less expensive and carbon-based.
The drawbacks to Gan's plan is that the organic photovoltaic cells have to be thin due to their poor electronic conductive properties, limiting their optical absorption. Gan said their power conversion efficiency needs to be 10 percent or more to compete in the market, which is a benchmark they hope to achieve. He and his colleagues are incorporating metal nanoparticles into organic photovoltaic cells to achieve this.
If the team is able to achieve this benchmark, then the photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, Gan said. With their most recent successes, the team says there should be a renewed focus on how nanomaterials and plasmonic strategies create more efficient and affordable thin-film organic solar cells.
Another technique being developed by researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne (EPFL) could also help to lower the cost of solar panels. The team said they are discovering how nanowires could be the future for solar panel products.
“The nanowire standing vertically essentially acts like a very efficient light funnel,” the EPFL researchers wrote in the journal Nature Photonics. “Even though the nanowire is only a few hundred nanometers in diameter, it absorbs light as though it were twelve-times bigger. In other words, it has a greater field of vision than expected.”