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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 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 ;)




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