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Somenath Mitra, PhD, is among a group of NJIT researchers working to develop an inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels.  (Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology)
Scientists say the plastic panels could be cranked out at home with an inkjet printer

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) claim to have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.

In a release prepared by the University, researcher Somenath Mitra, PhD, stated, "Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations."  Mitra is a professor and acting chair of NJIT's Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences.

Purified silicon, the same core material used for fabricating computer chips, is required for making conventional photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. The material is costly, difficult to handle and manufacture, and as a result, it is also subject to shortages. The NJIT research is focused on replacing purified silicon organic solar cells based on polymers.

Not only would such materials be vastly cheaper than silicon-based PV cells, they would also be significantly easier to use in a variety of ways. "Imagine someday driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless," Mitra said.

The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, combined with carbon "Buckyballs," or fullerenes. Together, these nanomaterials form snake-like structures using Buckyballs to trap electrons generated by polymers exposed to sunlight. Nanotubes are used to conduct the electrons, creating a flowing current.

Details of the process were described in the article "Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells," recently published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry by the Royal Society of Chemistry.



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RE: Sounds good to me...
By masher2 (blog) on 7/25/2007 3:16:11 PM , Rating: 2
> "In defense of the article though, we're never going to be able to print out nuclear reactors on pieces of paper"

Never say never in quantum physics. Other than some guff about the columb barrier, there's no theoretical reason we couldn't one day create catalyzed, low-energy nuclear reactions upon sheets of paper.

> "Unless the efficiency was extremely high, coating your entire car in solar cells wouldn't produce enough power to drive the engine."

Very true. And the problem with these polymer-based cells is typically that, while they're cheaper, they tend to be much less efficient than other forms.


RE: Sounds good to me...
By ZmaxDP on 7/25/2007 7:46:43 PM , Rating: 2
Very true! (the second part, I can't speak for paper reactors one way or the other...) Solar power is better suited to situations where energy storage is less of an issue - i.e. hooked up to the power grid. You'd have to have extremely efficient cells for a solar car to be realistic given current usage models, and you'd have to have significant storage capacity on board for those not to sunny occasions. However, if you're already driving an electric plug in or hybrid vehicle, it would be pretty dumb not to use solar cells on the vehicle to help recharge the batteries when there is sun out. Plus, if you run out of "gas" in the middle of nowhere, you just have to wait a few hours and then off you go again...


RE: Sounds good to me...
By masher2 (blog) on 7/25/2007 9:25:55 PM , Rating: 3
> "if you're already driving an electric plug in or hybrid vehicle, it would be pretty dumb not to use solar cells on the vehicle..."

Unless you assume some pretty hefty breakthroughs in solar technology, the energy generated would never offset the weight and drag of the panels themselves, much less show a net gain.


RE: Sounds good to me...
By ZmaxDP on 7/27/2007 12:04:20 AM , Rating: 2
Oh come on, I'm not talking about buying a 4 by 10 mono-crystalline panel and placing it at a proper solar angle on my roof!

Flexible solar panels are lightweight, can adhere to the shape of your vehicle, and if they were an integrated part of the vehicle design I'm sure you could manage to get the drag difference down to practically 0. They even have prototype panels now that have circular collector cells so the angle of incidence matters very little until you surpass the angle at which the containment material reflects rather than transmits the light.

These kind of panels are more than capable of powering cell phones, iPods, and even portable computers without a large footprint. You could easily power a modern laptop with the collected energy off of the roof of a Prius even with rather old solar technology. You don't even need an inverter since it's all DC.

You could get enough of a charge in a couple of hours of the whole car surface to make it those last few miles. (Unless you're inside running the AC off it)


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