Nano-ink could replace standard method of manufacturing solar cells

This is one powerful idea that would do away with massive solar panels. Solar cells could soon be spray painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops with nanoparticles.


The new nano-ink process could replace the standard method of manufacturing solar cells, which requires high temperatures and is relatively expensive, said Brian Korgel, a chemical engineer with the University of Texas at Austin.

“The Sun provides a nearly unlimited energy resource, but existing solar energy harvesting technologies are prohibitively expensive and cannot compete with fossil fuels,” Korgel was quoted by LiveScience as saying.

Also called photovoltaic cells, solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity and are typically made from silicon, although other materials that are flexible are gaining steam. Solar panels used to power homes and businesses each consist of 40 or so of these cells, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Rather than silicon, the inks developed by Korgel’s team are made up of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) — sunlight-absorbing nanoparticles that are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair. “We make a solution of these nanocrystals, and we spray paint them onto a substrate,” said Matthew Panthani, a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in Korgel’s lab.

The team envisions printing such inks in a newspaper-like process. “We’d have some sort of flexible substrate, maybe plastic or metal foil, and it would be on a spool and be unrolled. And the nanocrystals would be sprayed on,” Panthani told LiveScience.

So far, they have developed solar-cell prototypes that can convert 1% of the sunlight that hits the cell into electricity. “If we get to 10%, then there’s real potential for commercialization,” said Korgel.

The prospect of painting these inks onto a rooftop or building is not far-fetched. In addition, the inks are semi-transparent, and so could be used to develop windows that double as solar cells.

Via Times of India