How cool would it be if you could print solar panels off of an ink jet printer? Paper solar cells anyone? Researchers at MIT may have just the solution to printing solar panels from an ink jet printer. MIT scientists recently have successfully coated paper with a solar cell, part of research projects aimed at energy breakthroughs. The process involves an organic semiconductor material that can be applied through an inkjet printer. The coating is similar to the ink used in an inkjet printer. This process will lower the weight of future solar panel designs, and potentially could be stapled onto surfaces. The commercial application for such imprinted panels is quite extensive. Imagine solar panels on sails, tent fabrics, exterior and interior walls, painted car surfaces, and even clothing. Reducing the weight of solar panels through this new process could eliminate the exoskeleton of solar panel farms, and potentially reduce the maintenance costs of current solar panel installations. The materials MIT researchers used are carbon-based dyes and the cells are about 1.5 percent to 2 percent efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. The size of the individual solar dots being applied to the paper is measured in a few nanometers. In comparison to a few nanometers, human hair is about 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers thick. According to MIT, if 0.3 percent of the U.S. were covered with photovoltaics with 10 percent efficiency, solar power could produce three times the country’s needs. MIT has been working on finding the right combination of materials and sizes that can fine-tune the colors of light that these nanometer dots can absorb sunlight, and become good candidates for solar cells. MIT has been quick to caution that these results are anywhere from 5 to 0 years out in becoming commercially viable products. Nonetheless, their breakthrough has staggering consequences for the rest of us, and is headed in the right direction to move us to a sustainable energy solution for this country and the world.
Photo: Martin LaMonica (CNET)