Paint your house green with solar cells

Austin, Texas – Solar cells could soon be printed like newspaper or painted onto rooftops.

Brian Korgel, a University of Texas chemical engineer, reckons he can cu the price of solar cells by as much as 90 percent by replacing the standard manufacturing process for solar cells – gas-phase deposition in a vacuum chamber.

He and his team have been working on a low-cost, nanomaterials solution. Inks could be printed on a roll-to-roll printing process on a plastic substrate or stainless steel, or even painted onto a rooftop or wall.

“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.”

Korgel uses light-absorbing nanomaterials – copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, which is relatively cheap 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.”

His team has developed solar-cell prototypes with efficiencies at one percent, but he acknoledges there’s some way to go. “If we get to 10 percent, then there’s real potential for commercialization,” Korgel said. “If it works, I think you could see it being used in three to five years.”

He also said that the inks, which are semi-transparent, could help realize the prospect of having windows that double as solar cells. Korgel said his work has attracted the interest of industrial partners.

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