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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
quote: Heck yes, and using paper body panels would have the added benefit of improving on the legendary GM build quality...