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These rolls, while bearing an uncanny resemblance to "Fruit by the Foot", are actually commercial grade solar photovolatics printed by inkjet printer via Konarka's new process.  (Source: Konarka Technologies, Inc.)

A sheet of the material can charge a laptop on the go -- either indoors or out.  (Source: Konarka Technologies, Inc.)
Want power? Just print it!

Solar power admittedly has obstacles to overcome.  Photovoltaics require glass and are relatively expensive.  Trough and solar tower setups typically need to adopt advanced design features, such as those of the new proposed Arizona 280 MW desert plant.  These design features add to the moving parts total, make maintenance more complex, and most importantly raise the cost.  Other solar setups such as photosynthetic hydrogen production and solar nanowires hold great promise, but are currently too far away from being a realizable commercial solution.

So what is the answer to providing cheap solar power, power that can rival even the efficiency and cost of nuclear energy?   One idea floated around in the past has been to print solar cells using inkjet printers.  However such a process remained in the realm of pure research -- until now. 

Massachusetts-based Konarka Technologies, Inc, a company with a healthy history of commercial experience, developed and demonstrated a commercial-grade process for printing cells on inkjet printers.  All quips about inkjet cartridge costs aside, the new process holds tremendous potential to revolutionize the solar photovoltaic industry.

Konarka demonstrated the technology publicly and published its research that backs the process in Advanced Materials, entitled, “High Photovoltaic Performance of Inkjet Printed Polymer:Fullerene Blends” by Konarka researchers Dr. Stelios A. Choulis, Claudia N. Hoth, Dr. Pavel Schilinsky and Dr. Christoph J. Brabec.

Typical photovoltaics require a clean room to maintain the delicate manufacturing conditions necessary in order to carry out silicon spin coating and other steps in the manufacturing process.  These clean rooms are extremely expensive to build and maintain.  While traditional photovoltaics can be profitable, Konarka's inkjet phtovoltaics promise to dramatically lower their cost, making solar power suddenly very competitive in terms of energy production per installation cost.  Better yet, it will likely reduce the time it takes to produce the cells and allow for easier expansion of capacity.

Rick Hess, president and CEO, states, "Demonstrating the use of inkjet printing technology as a fabrication tool for highly efficient solar cells and sensors with small area requirements is a major milestone.  This essential breakthrough in the field of printed solar cells positions Konarka as an emerging leader in printed photovoltaics."

The new solar cells use an organic bulk heterojunction, as opposed to the non-organic designs of traditional solar cells.  The new organic-ink has the advantage of being deposited easily on a number of different substrates, unlike traditional inorganic semiconductor doping which can only be applied easily to a limited number of inorganic semiconductors.  Konarka looks to deploy this technology in what it calls Power Plastic® -- flexible plastic power producing sheets.  One intriguing feature of the plastics is that Konarka can offer flexible plastic solar panels with printed patterns -- such as bricks or camouflage, which although taking a slight hit on efficiency, could be an intriguing prospect for non-intrusive installation.  The military already has contracted the company to build a series of camouflaged power-generating buildings.

Konarka plans on marketing the new tech to power laptops, cell phones, and more.  The solar cells work with the full spectrum of visible light, so they can be charged indoors, not just in sunlight.  Konarka advertises that a sheet not much bigger than a couple pieces of notebook paper could charge a laptop, when you're on the go.

While Konarka still has to prove itself before maintaining a place among the greats of alternative energy, its process sure seems innovative.  If the company is a success, perhaps in a couple years the solution to the energy crisis will be as simple a print job away.

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imagine the possibilities...
By eyebeeemmpawn on 3/7/2008 12:16:07 PM , Rating: 5
I can't wait until I build a giant paper airplane with an electric motor and fly myself to work with it. I hope it doesn't rain that day :)

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By i3arracuda on 3/7/2008 12:21:55 PM , Rating: 5
I can't wait to waste a quarter of the ink on printing the alignment page.

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By stirfry213 on 3/7/2008 12:50:13 PM , Rating: 5
Better yet, you print out your resume and realize you forgot to swap your ink cartradges and paper!

Though, maybe your new boss would find your resume electrifying!

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By shamgar03 on 3/7/2008 1:05:58 PM , Rating: 5
Dude......puns like that deserve jail time.

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By winterspan on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
By 4wardtristan on 3/8/2008 1:26:20 AM , Rating: 3
hahah thanks for the laugh made my average day good :D

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By HakonPCA on 3/7/2008 3:11:05 PM , Rating: 5
ink jet ink, currently about ~$7000-8000 a it, thanks HP et all

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By daftrok on 3/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: imagine the possibilities...
By dever on 3/8/2008 2:18:44 PM , Rating: 5
You are free to compete if you think you can do better. But, that would shatter your conspiracy theories.

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By rebturtle on 3/9/2008 3:34:52 AM , Rating: 3
So apparently you propose that the brilliant inventors of today should invest millions in R&D as well as considerable portions of their time/life, and then not patent it and be repaid? Should we just e-mail China, Malaysia, Pakistan, etc. with all our ideas rather than bothering with all the reverse-engineering and having our ideas & jobs stolen over time? Perhaps we should stop inventing and let the rest of the world "catch up." Meanwhile you can continue purchasing some knock-off lead-based toys fresh off the ultra-mass production child labor line at you local discount store!

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By Optimizer on 3/9/2008 12:47:22 PM , Rating: 4
"The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By acer905 on 3/10/2008 12:05:47 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully we will be able to get to that mindset without the devistating 3rd world war...

RE: imagine the possibilities...
By dever on 3/11/2008 2:52:16 PM , Rating: 2
You know, I'm a Star Trek fan to a degree, but that statement could have just as easily come from Marx. Here's a better quote for you:

"We have realized that the choice to freely persue rewards, such as wealth, underlies the betterment of humanity."

Two Words Chevy Volt
By KingofL337 on 3/7/2008 12:48:00 PM , Rating: 3
If this is as good as it sounds they should find a way to integrate this technology into the paint job / sunroof on a car like the Volt. That way it could charge all day in the sun ready to go home after work. To take this a step further then incorporate this into Car2Grid where charged cars could dump the power to the grid or other cars that need charging.

RE: Two Words Chevy Volt
By ioannis on 3/7/2008 1:13:03 PM , Rating: 2
my thoughts as well (about the paint job)

RE: Two Words Chevy Volt
By Captain Orgazmo on 3/7/2008 8:56:28 PM , Rating: 5
Heck yes, and using paper body panels would have the added benefit of improving on the legendary GM build quality...

RE: Two Words Chevy Volt
By Queonda on 3/7/2008 10:53:48 PM , Rating: 3
Heck yes, and using paper body panels would have the added benefit of improving on the legendary GM build quality...


that almost brought me to tears

RE: Two Words Chevy Volt
By ArizonaSteve on 3/8/2008 12:07:51 PM , Rating: 2
I think this is worth another 6. Too funny.

The problem with this..
By RU482 on 3/7/2008 2:49:49 PM , Rating: 5
"PC load letter?! What the f*ck does that mean??"

RE: The problem with this..
By Chimpie on 3/7/2008 2:59:47 PM , Rating: 3
WINNER - Post of the day!

RE: The problem with this..
By winterspan on 3/7/2008 5:29:46 PM , Rating: 2

RE: The problem with this..
By scoprio487 on 3/8/2008 12:21:16 AM , Rating: 2
Please give this guy a 6, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing!!!

Devoid of numbers
By dever on 3/7/2008 1:27:03 PM , Rating: 5
Once again, another fluff article about solar that's completely devoid of any tangible numbers. What would the output (say per sq/ft) be?

RE: Devoid of numbers
By phxfreddy on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
RE: Devoid of numbers
By smaddox on 3/7/2008 5:24:13 PM , Rating: 3
The highest numbers that these bulk heterojunctions have reached in the lab is about 4% efficiency, whereas the highest silicon has reached is 24%. Bulk heterojunctions are much cheaper than these, so even at 1% commercial efficiency, this could be viable (average commercial silicon cells are about 15%). However, fullerenes aren't stable in air, and I don't understand how they have overcome this issue.

Sure printing is easy, but if the cell only lasts a month, it's not going to be very cost effective.

RE: Devoid of numbers
By dever on 3/8/2008 2:17:18 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks, that's helpful.

So, let's say I have a 4% efficient panel (because I don't know any better, I'll assume 4% of the entire spectrum is converted)... if my panel is 1 square meter, then I can get about 40 watts when the sun is directly overhead (equator) on a clear day.


Most of the time, being at an angle from the sun, and having some potential for cloud cover, I'll cut that in half (20 watts) for a few hours a day. So maybe 100 watt-hours per afternoon? That seems pretty good. Am I way off?

RE: Devoid of numbers
By mindless1 on 3/8/2008 9:19:54 PM , Rating: 2
At an angle with cloud cover you'll have nowhere near 50%. Too many variables to throw out a number but could even be as low as 10%.

If you were looking for dozens of WH from a 1 meter panel then I recommend you use a traditional monocrystaline array.

By pauluskc on 3/7/2008 12:30:03 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, its printed via inkjet and has stylish designs and etc., but how the heck does it connect?? Do I just tape my extension cord leads to the top (or bottom??) of the newly printed page? Does the "special" paper/plastic have a connecter embedded in it (will that get stuck in the printer) or what?

What about drying time? If I touch the pretty pic as it slides out (or it falls off the edge of the printer) will it smear and mess up the efficiency?

Can I run one through multiple passes to increase efficiency? How about double-sided printing?

Great idea, but gosh there's a lot of unanswered questions.

RE: connecting?
By OrSin on 3/7/2008 12:40:06 PM , Rating: 3
WE will not be able to print it at out homes. It will still be printed in a factory. They can just do it cheaped using easier means. I would like solar shades or blinds for the house. If it cheap enough even replaceble roofing.

RE: connecting?
By PAPutzback on 3/7/2008 1:05:50 PM , Rating: 2
I like the solar shades\blinds idea. WE kee pthe blinds down on the bedroom all the time. Might as well generate some electricity off of the while they are absorbing heat in the summer.

RE: connecting?
By mindless1 on 3/8/2008 9:33:58 PM , Rating: 2
Why generate less energy with a shade when you could just have the roof panel like everyone else? Maybe if you're in a multi-story apt. building but otherwise shades don't make much sense except as one of the last places to put a panel.

By xti on 3/7/2008 4:55:09 PM , Rating: 3
Can i tattoo myself with this ink and throw a fireball?

RE: hadokun...
By Captain Orgazmo on 3/7/2008 9:03:28 PM , Rating: 2
Nah, but you could make this old nursery rhyme a reality:

"Ole King Cole was a merry ole soul with his buckskin belly and a rubber a**hole, two ball bearings and an electric c*ck, sure gave the girls a hell of a shock!"

RE: hadokun...
By ArizonaSteve on 3/8/2008 12:11:12 PM , Rating: 2
Dang it! Nearly spat coffee all over my keyboard. Guess that one never made it across the Atlantic to England.

Yeah, but is it quilted?
By pauluskc on 3/7/2008 12:22:59 PM , Rating: 3
Charmin, Angel Soft, and Quilted Northern already have fancy quilting, will Konarka??

RE: Yeah, but is it quilted?
By saiga6360 on 3/8/2008 1:42:25 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, but will you really wipe your *ss with it?

I'm sure we will see it in YouTube someday.

By nerdboy on 3/7/2008 1:20:19 PM , Rating: 5
I would print out a picture of Yoda and tell people my laptop is powered by the force.

April 1 already?
By bupkus on 3/7/08, Rating: 0
RE: April 1 already?
By bhieb on 3/7/2008 1:35:41 PM , Rating: 2
No March 5th, this company was also on an episode of EcoTech on the science channel (not that that in and of itself makes it 100% credible). Although the inkjet analogy is wrong, it would be much cheaper than current solar production methods.

RE: April 1 already?
By Keeir on 3/7/2008 3:16:41 PM , Rating: 2
Cheaper (initial production) is less than 1/2 the solution to current solar problems.

I notice that absent from this article is any estimation of efficieny and durability. I have seen flexible solar panels samples that have less than 5% efficieny in past testing with durability of 3-5 years. Compared to more traditional glass panels with ~10% and 20+ years of durability, this technology would need to be a tenth the cost or less to be even compeditive with the traditional glass panels... and then fractions of that to be compeditive with even other forms of alternative energy.

Very Nice
By isorfir on 3/7/2008 12:23:18 PM , Rating: 2
I think this is a promising development and could have some interesting uses. I like how the sheets are flexible, couple that with easy production (the ubiquitous inkjet printer) and I think we'll see home users coming up with great ideas.

I think the next move for Konarka would be to partner with a printer manufacturer and offer demo cartridges with new printer sales, much like the “photo quality” color cartridges I’ve seen.

By ferdb on 3/7/2008 12:55:04 PM , Rating: 2
This is not all that unique, other companies are working on printed solar cells also, such as Nanosolar. It's all enthusiastic and gushy, but conspicuously absent are any mention of conversion efficiency, real production costs, or cell longevity which are the important factors for a viable solar cell. I'd guess Konarka is looking for funding.

The article can be a bit misleading
By rcc on 3/7/2008 12:56:08 PM , Rating: 2
You aren't going to print this stuff on your home inkjet anytime soon/ever. Looks really cool though.

Also, the drawing says that 2-3 page size sheet will power a laptop. The text says it will charge a laptop. Major difference there. I suspect the right answer is that it will charge it, but not provide enough power to sustain active use.

By geddarkstorm on 3/7/2008 1:05:36 PM , Rating: 2
What is the efficiency and life span of this type of solar cell? It's organic, so will it undergo photobleaching? It sounds radically different from most of what we hear about, not just the process by which it is made, so I'm very curious about this technology in total.

But even if it has lower efficiency and life, the fact you can just print out more on the fly is positively amazing.

By NotesGuyDE on 3/7/2008 7:36:24 PM , Rating: 2
I'd like to be able to print at least 1 ream of paper, daisy chain them together, then power my house (or pool heater)with them. Where would the fuse/circuit breaker go?

By choadenstein on 3/8/2008 12:42:40 PM , Rating: 2
They can create solar cells from injket printers, but Microsoft still can't even get a driver for my injket in Vista...


By Darkskypoet on 3/8/2008 3:43:58 PM , Rating: 2
Really, don't think of it so much as home based printing of solar cells or anything so simple as that... It would be printed in a factory; but think of all the technology that goes into laying out multiple layers of small dots of 6 or heck even 20 substances.

It's just a technology thats gotten really sophisticated on its own for other means, and is being leveraged to layout and 'build' sheets (on mats other then paper duh, think large commercial substrate printers). Considering the sheer tiny ness of the dots utilized in high end large format photographic or archive quality printers, and the existng capability of printing with 6 different liquids and up... and you can start to see rolls / rigid sheets of even semi conductor based designs from this sort of process.

Consider that an ink jet can, with exceptional accuracy, can easily print at 1440 x 1440 dpi over a large surface (larger then 74" wide even for the uber expensive ones), now take that and figure the transistor density one can pack into a low voltage circuit, or in this case a solar cell. The key R and D missing is specialized inks to layout components... the delivery mechanism has been worked on for decades already :)

Smart adaption of technology, thats all this is. Hell they could probably print it on fabric, a solar power shirt to charge wearable devises. Or for that funky thinkgeek wifi detecting hoodie ;)

Sounds good but...
By Davelo on 3/8/2008 8:47:26 PM , Rating: 2
nowhere does the article or the website say how much power this process can make. For all we know it might take a sheet the size of a football field to generate a few milli-amps.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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