Breakthroughs In Spray-On Solar Cells

Breakthroughs In Spray-On Solar Cells

Alisa Opar
Published: 02/16/2011


New Energy applies its SolarWindow coating to commercial glass, making it capable of generating electricity. Photo: New Energy Technologies, Inc.

Forget those bulky, breakable solar panels: The future of solar photovoltaic technology may come in a spray form. It’s a bit more complicated than press-and-spritz, but that’s the general idea, and the technology is making strides.

New Energy Technologies, for instance, has developed a method covering windows with a transparent photovoltaic material. The nano cells—which are 1/10th the thickness of ‘thin’ films (or 1/1000th the thickness of human hair)—capture energy from both artificial and sunlight and transform it into electricity.
 
Spray-on solar will be far less efficient than traditional PV panels, but “What we lack in efficiency, we will make up for in surface area,” CEO John Conklin told cleanenergyauthority.com. He envisions the company’s SolarWindows product being particularly useful on tall skyscrapers.

This month New Energy Technologies announced that it scaled up its 4X4-inch prototype to a 12X12-inch pane of glass. Next, it will test for durability, product performance, and reliability, Conklin said.

Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin are also investigating using tiny solar collectors that could be spray painted on a roof, wall, or window. Take a look at the video below. They’ve still got a way to go, though, before you can buy nano-crystal paint or solar shingles to power your home.

“We have made devices that have an efficiency of three percent,” says chemical engineer Brian Korgel, who’s team is testing the nanoparticle “inks” with funding from the National Science Foundation. “To be commercial, you really have to be at about 10 percent.”

Sprays are just one of the directions solar is going. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists are also looking into nanophotovoltaics, developing silicon nanowires. Other companies are thinking big, installing concentrated solar plants that use mirrors that reflect the sun to a boiler filled with water that will make steam to run a turbine and produce electricity. And then there are those that are going out of this world, racing to establish space-based solar power.