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Who Ya Gonna Call for Spray-On Solar?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Someday, Illan Kramer hopes, men sporting Ghostbusters backpacks will come to your facility and spray solar cells directly onto your roof.

The University of Toronto engineer is leading a team that has developed a new method of spray-coating solar cells. The technology could eventually be used to coat roofs, patio furniture and even airplane wings, the team says.

“My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof,” said Dr. Illan Kramer, a post-doctoral fellow in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

The university announced the research Dec. 5.

The ABCs of CQDs

Kramer and his team call the new system sprayLD—a play on the manufacturing process called ALD, short for atomic layer deposition. During the process, materials are laid down on a surface one atom-thickness at a time, according to the university.

The system involves miniscule light-sensitive materials called colloidal quantum dots (CQDs).

A surface the size of a car’s roof wrapped in a CQD-coated film would produce enough energy to power three 100-watt light bulbs or 24 compact fluorescents, the university says.

How does the math work? Here's Kramer's "back of the envelope" calculation, shared in an email Wednesday (Dec. 17).

"A Honda Civic (for example) is ~ 1.75 m wide, and if you assume the roof of the car is roughly a square, that translates to about 3 square meters as the area we are talking about (for a relatively small car)," he writes.

"In the solar research world, the standard by which we measure and discuss our cells is relative to the global AM 1.5 standard of 1000 W/m^2. With our best solar cells (8.1%), that translates to 243 W (3*1000*0.081). Obviously, the average car roof would be bigger than a Honda Civic, so I estimated it would be slightly boosted up from there."

How it Works

Previously, CQDs could be incorporated onto surfaces only through batch processing—an inefficient, slow and expensive assembly-line approach to chemical coating, according to the scientists.

SprayLD, on the other hand, blasts a liquid containing CQDs directly onto flexible surfaces like film or plastic, in the same way a newspaper is printed or ink applied to a roll of paper.

solar spray
University of Toronto

A surface the size of a car’s roof wrapped in a CQD-coated film would produce enough energy to power three 100-watt light bulbs or 24 compact fluorescents, says Dr. Illan Kramer.

This roll-to-roll coating method makes incorporating solar cells into existing manufacturing processes much simpler, the team relates.

The team has shown that the sprayLD method can be used on flexible materials without any major loss in solar-cell efficiency.

Parts from Junk

The sprayLD device was constructed with parts that are easily accessible and rather affordable.

Kramer sourced a spray nozzle used in steel mills to cool steel with a fine mist of water and a few regular air brushes from an art store.

“This is something you can build in a Junkyard Wars fashion, which is basically how we did it,” he said. “We think of this as a no-compromise solution for shifting from batch processing to roll-to-roll.”

The team’s research is detailed in two recent papers published in the journals Advanced Materials and Applied Physics Letters.

Related, but separate, research regarding solar cell technology is described in “Scientists Spray Paint Solar Power.”


Tagged categories: Air spray; Coating Materials; Coatings technology; North America; Photovoltaic coatings; Research; Solar; Solar energy; Spray Paint

Comment from Andrew Smith, (12/18/2014, 1:22 AM)

I assume that this material would have to be applied in complete darkness so that the people involved were not electrocuted?? Certain challenges inherent in this.

Comment from paul graham, (12/18/2014, 6:55 AM)

Thats what im talking about. This genius has the right state of innovative products that should be globally recognized.

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