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University of Texas's nanoparticled-based solar ink can be applied to a prepared surface with a standard airbrush.   (Source: Cockrell School of Engineering/University of Texas at Austin)
Solar power just a spray away.

Though solar power and more specifically, photovoltaic construction have improved vastly in just a few years, two of the factors that have always made solar power a non-viable alternative energy source for consumers and providers alike are its cost and its lack of physical installation flexibility. Fortunately these are the very two things that have seen rapid progress.

As long ago as March of 2008, research has been surfacing from various institutes working on what can only be described as solar ink. Konarka Technologies Inc showed its offering as an organic ink able to be printed on several surfaces which before were unusable due to their lack of compatibility with inorganic semiconductors.

This month, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have published work with another type of printable photovoltaic ink. Rather than being organic molecule-based, the UT group's ink uses a copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) nanopartical solution. The CIGS solution is both less expensive to manufacture than silicon-based inks and environmentally friendly.

Thus far the researchers have produced prototype cells that produce electricity at about 1% efficiency. This is far too low to be commercially viable and the intent is to push the number to 10% efficiency, bringing the ink up to par.

The inks can be applied to various surfaces by simply painting them on. Konarka touts an inkjet printer process, while UT's ink can simply be sprayed or roll printed on several surfaces, including plastic and stainless steel.

Another interesting property of the UT inks are that they are semi-transparent after the printing process. This could lead to layers of the photovoltaic in innocuous places like skylights or tinted car windows. Or perhaps, combined with new University of Illinois flexible LED technology, could be used to create self-powered display systems for any number of practical applications.

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RE: Why is this news?
By namechamps on 8/25/2009 9:45:28 AM , Rating: 5
Efficiency without cost is irrelivent.

If I make a panel that is 10% efficient at $4/watt and you make a panel that is 20% efficient at $9/watt my panel is more useful except in few situations where size & weight is worth a 100% premium.

Most ultra high efficient panels also have ultra off the chart costs.

If (and it is a big if) these researchers someday can make a mere 8% efficient panel but at a cost of say $1/watt it would revolutionize solar.

Even at a mere 8% efficiency the average home has enough south facing roof area to generate enough power for a substantial portion of the power needs and at $1/watt it becomes a lot better ROI.

RE: Why is this news?
By mars2k on 8/25/2009 11:55:52 AM , Rating: 2
You correct about cost/efficiencies. However...with current incentives from power companies and the government PV can make a lot of sense. Many power companies, mine included, offer $3/watt rebates + power buy back at the highest price they pay for renewable sources. There are 30% tax credits from the government. With all this in place you also have the added benefit of stabalizing energy costs over the life of the system.

Take another look at the numbers with incentives. The bottom line changes a lot.

RE: Why is this news?
By sonoran on 8/25/2009 1:58:50 PM , Rating: 3
Take another look at the numbers with incentives. The bottom line changes a lot.

And where do you think that incentive money comes from?

RE: Why is this news?
By randomly on 8/25/2009 1:27:23 PM , Rating: 3
You missed the point.

There are already companies using the same CIGS technology to print solar cells. The cells are much more efficient. The cells are cheaper. They are already being made in industrial quantities.

What new aspect of CIGS based technology does this UT research paper reveal that is not already being done by multiple companies?

As to your comments on efficiency and cost, they are only crudely correct. In reality solar cells with less than 10% efficiency are not considered economically competitive because the cost of the panels and environmental protection layers, mechanical support costs, and installation costs come to dominate the over all installed system costs. The devil is in the details.

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