Researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels

July 18, 2007
Researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels
NJIT researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels. Credit: New Jersey Institute of Technology

Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.

“The process is simple,” said lead researcher and author Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of NJIT’s Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. “Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations.”

“Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells,” featured as the June 21, 2007 cover story of the Journal of Materials Chemistry published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, details the process.

Harvesting energy directly from abundant solar radiation using solar cells is increasingly emerging as a major component of future global energy strategy, said Mitra. Yet, when it comes to harnessing renewable energy, challenges remain. Expensive, large-scale infrastructures such as wind mills or dams are necessary to drive renewable energy sources, such as wind or hydroelectric power plants. Purified silicon, also used for making computer chips, is a core material for fabricating conventional solar cells. However, the processing of a material such as purified silicon is beyond the reach of most consumers.

“Developing organic solar cells from polymers, however, is a cheap and potentially simpler alternative,” said Mitra. “We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and/or roof tops. Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless. ”

The science goes something like this. When sunlight falls on an organic solar cell, the energy generates positive and negative charges. If the charges can be separated and sent to different electrodes, then a current flows. If not, the energy is wasted. Link cells electronically and the cells form what is called a panel, like the ones currently seen on most rooftops. The size of both the cell and panels vary. Cells can range from 1 millimeter to several feet; panels have no size limits.

The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, which by the way, is a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. The name is derived from the tube’s miniscule size. Scientists estimate nanotubes to be 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. Nevertheless, just one nanotube can conduct current better than any conventional electrical wire. “Actually, nanotubes are significantly better conductors than copper,” Mitra added.

Mitra and his research team took the carbon nanotubes and combined them with tiny carbon Buckyballs (known as fullerenes) to form snake-like structures. Buckyballs trap electrons, although they can’t make electrons flow. Add sunlight to excite the polymers, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons. Nanotubes, behaving like copper wires, will then be able to make the electrons or current flow.

“Using this unique combination in an organic solar cell recipe can enhance the efficiency of future painted-on solar cells,” said Mitra. “Someday, I hope to see this process become an inexpensive energy alternative for households around the world.”

Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology

Explore further: NIR-driven H2 evolution from water: Expanding wavelength range for solar energy conversion

Related Stories

Twisting molecule wrings more power from solar cells

November 14, 2017

Inside a solar cell, sunlight excites electrons. But these electrons often don't last long enough to go on to power cell phones or warm homes. In a promising new type of solar cell, the solar-excited electrons have better ...

Ionic 'solar cell' could provide on-demand water desalination

November 15, 2017

Modern solar cells, which use energy from light to generate electrons and holes that are then transported out of semiconducting materials and into external circuits for human use, have existed in one form or another for over ...

A simple soak for a solar tune-up

November 13, 2017

The performance of solar cells that consist of semiconductor nanoparticles surrounded by ligand molecules is now easier to control. Researchers from KAUST have developed a method that enhances the ability of these colloidal ...

Recommended for you

Heavy nitrogen molecules reveal planetary-scale tug-of-war

November 17, 2017

Nature whispers its stories in a faint molecular language, and Rice University scientist Laurence Yeung and colleagues can finally tell one of those stories this week, thanks to a one-of-a-kind instrument that allowed them ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Toni_
not rated yet Jun 12, 2008
How would the energy be used? I see how the energy would be created, but I don't see how the energy could possibly be transfered from the film or paint to an applience, heating unit, or car engine. Also, couldn't the large amount of carbon used to harness the suns energy be dangerous?
If there is a way to contain the carbon and transport the energy, is this on the market yet and how much would it cost?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.