Washington: If scientists have their way, solar cells could soon be produced more cheaply using nanoparticle “inks” that allow them to be printed like newspaper or painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops to absorb electricity-producing sunlight.
For the past two years, Brian Korgel, a University of Texas at Austin chemical engineer and his team have been working on this low-cost, nanomaterials solution to photovoltaics – or solar cell – manufacturing.
Korgel uses the light-absorbing nanomaterials, which are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair, because their microscopic size allows for new physical properties that can help enable higher-efficiency devices.
The inks could be printed on a roll-to-roll printing process on a plastic substrate or stainless steel. And the prospect of being able to paint the “inks” onto a rooftop or building is not far-fetched.
“You’d have to paint the light-absorbing material and a few other layers as well,” Korgel said. “This is one step in the direction towards paintable solar cells,” he added.
For the development of the solar cells, Korgel and his team are using copper indium gallium selenide or CIGS, which is both cheaper and benign in terms of environmental impact.
“CIGS has some potential advantages over silicon,” Korgel said. “It’s a direct band gap semiconductor, which means that you need much less material to make a solar cell, and that’s one of the biggest potential advantages,” he added.
His team has developed solar-cell prototypes with efficiencies at one percent; however, they need to be about 10 percent.
“If we get to 10 percent, then there’s real potential for commercialization. If it works, I think you could see it being used in three to five years,” Korgel said.
He also said that the inks, which are semi-transparent, could help realize the prospect of having windows that double as solar cells.