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The Bright Stuff: Paint-on Solar Cells

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

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Imagine generating electricity from light with a single coat of paint.

That’s the gist of a new, inexpensive “solar paint” being developed at the University of Notre Dame.

 
University of Notre Dame researchers call the new coating “Sun-Believable.”

The coating uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy and could, for example, be applied to home exteriors to power appliances inside.

Spread-on Nanoparticles

“We want to do something transformative, to move beyond current silicon-based solar technology,” says Prashant Kamat, John A. Zahm Professor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry and an investigator in Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano), who leads the research.

“By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we’ve made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment.”

 Prashant Kamat
“We want to do something transformative,” says lead researcher Prashant Kamat.

The team’s search for the new material, described in the journal ACS Nano, centered on nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, which were coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. The particles were then suspended in a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste.

When the paste was brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light, it created electricity.

‘A Real Difference’

The current downside, according to Kamat: “The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we’ve reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells.”

On the other hand, he says, “this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future.”

Kamat and his team also plan to study ways to improve the stability of the new material.

The research was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

   

Tagged categories: Coatings technology; Nanotechnology; Research

Comment from Jeff Croll, (1/5/2012, 11:30 AM)

This is a good first step in the right direction!


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/6/2012, 10:21 AM)

There are already manufacturers producing flexible thin-film solar cells with much higher efficiency. One of them uses a roll-printing process (like newspaper printing.) Prices continue to drop dramatically. Paintable solar is interesting, but likely to be impractical/non competitive unless they have major improvements in conversion efficiency.


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