The geniuses over at MIT have developed a photovoltaic (PV) cellthat can be printed on paper, almost like you’d print a photo with aninkjet printer. The technology, according to MIT, is still in itsinfancy, and it will be years before it’s ready for market. Right nowthe technology is only about 1.5 percent to 2 percent efficient atconverting sunlight into electricity. But the breakthrough represents away to produce PV at an extremely low cost.
The cells are made of nano-sized, carbon-based dyes.
MIT said it’s a first, though other makers of nanophotovoltaics, like Nanosolar also are creating printable solar panels. Bringingnanotechnology and printing technology to PV technology has manyimportant implications. Nanotechnology vastly reduces the amount ofmaterials used in PV cells, reducing the cost of materials needed tomake the panels. It also allows for incredibly light PV panels, whichmakes installation and shipping of the panels much easier. And somenanotechnology processes allow for self-assembly. This reduces theamount of extra energy needed to make the PV materials themselves.
Being able to print the PV cells has additional cost-effectivebenefits. Since the PV elements of the solar cell are contained in an ink-like medium,they can be sprayed or literally painted on a surface. Some older PVtechnologies, like silicon wafer or polycrystalline solar, take a lot of energy and time to produce. Some PV cells essentially must be grown. By using existing printing technology, it drastically reduces the time and energy used to produce the cells themselves. And companies likeNanosolar can basically print PV cells from reel to reel—like printing a newspaper.
The MIT technique could also be used to print cells on plastics orother flexible surfaces. At this point, MIT is envisioning a low-costmeans of creating PV that doesn’t need to last for 20 or more years,more like just a few years.
One of the engineers of the MIT project said, “One could imaginefolding a solar panel in an envelope, slip it in a brief case, andunfolding it to power a light weight laptop—no need for heavy cumbersome untidy cables or plug adapters in different countries.” Imagine that.