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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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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.

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