A nanomaterials chemist at the University of Texas at Austin, Brian Korgel is making nanocrystals for paintable solar panels. This paint is made of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) nanocrystals. Focused on ‘CIGS’ the team were able to dissolve it in a solvent to create an ink or paint medium that can be sprayed on plastic, glass and fabric to create a solar cell.
Lower manufacturing cost is now the challenge. One way to create these cells on a very large scale would be to print them on thin, flexible sheets, the same way newspapers work. Eventually, one could be picked-up at local hardware stores…” and the final product would ideally look something like today’s shingles,” says Vahid Akhavan, one of Korgel’s graduate research assistants. With commercialization strongly in mind, the University of Texas plans to partner with Konarka Technologies creating commercial opportunities in three to five years.
Obstacles need to be overcome, particular improving the efficiency of the nanomaterial cells themselves. Mass-production is also a problem as copper, indium, gallium, and selenide are not cheap or easily available. Silicon (made from sand and easily available) is a possible option however extracting it from sand remains an ‘energy-intensive’ process and would harm the environment.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have begun re-employing a previously abandoned technique, successfully created a complicated, yet affordable, process using ordinary glass. This may soon allow an office building to harvest energy not only from its roof but in addition from tinted windows. Amazing possibilities for energy-production in buildings may soon become possible. Rock on!