Printing solar cells

June 29, 2011
A completed nanocrystal solar cell. Credit: Anthony Chesman

Australian researchers have invented nanotech solar cells that are thin, flexible and use 1/100th the materials of conventional solar cells.

Printable, flexible solar cells that could dramatically decrease the cost of have been developed by PhD student Brandon MacDonald in collaboration with his colleagues from CSIRO’s Future Manufacturing Flagship and the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute.

Their patented technology is based on inks containing tiny, semiconducting nanocrystals, which can be printed directly onto a variety of surfaces.

By choosing the right combination of ink and surface it is possible to make efficient solar cells using very little material or energy.

“The problem with traditional solar cells,” Brandon says, “is that making them requires many complex and energy intensive steps.”

“Using nanocrystal inks, they can be manufactured in a continuous manner, which increases throughput and should make the cells much cheaper to produce.”

Brandon examines one of his nanocrystal inks. Credit: Anthony Chesman

Nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, are semiconducting particles with a diameter of a few millionths of a millimetre. Because of their extremely small size they can remain suspended in a solution.

This solution can then be deposited onto a variety of materials, including flexible plastics or metal foils. It is then dried to form a thin film.

Brandon and his colleagues discovered that by depositing multiple layers of nanocrystals they can fill in any defects formed during the drying process.

The result is a densely packed, uniform film, ideal for lightweight solar cells.

The nanocrystals consist of a semiconducting material called cadmium telluride, which is a very strong absorber of light. This means that the resulting cells can be made very thin.

“The total amount of material used in these cells is about 1% of what you would use for a typical silicon solar cell.

Even compared to other types of cadmium telluride cells ours are much thinner, using approximately one-tenth as much material,” Brandon says.

The technology is not limited to . It can also be used to make printable versions of other electronic devices, such as light emitting diodes, lasers or transistors.

For his work Brandon has received the 2010/11 DuPont Young Innovator’s Award and has had his work published in the journal Nano Letters.

Explore further: Solar cells can be made thinner and lighter with the help of aluminum particles

Related Stories

Researchers improve efficiency of low-cost solar cells

December 7, 2010

( -- As part of the recent progress in improving solar cells for widespread use, researchers from Purdue University have designed solar cells made of low-cost, abundant materials that are easily scalable and very ...

Nano-tuned solar cells

May 18, 2011

Solar cells that are more effective and cost less in production: Within the EU-project N2P (Nano to Product) researchers developed nano tuned surfaces to gain both.

Affordable solar technology

January 6, 2011

An innovative Oxford company has developed new solar cell technology that is manufactured from cheap, abundant, non-toxic and non-corrosive materials and can be scaled to any volume.

Recommended for you

Atomic blasting creates new devices to measure nanoparticles

December 14, 2017

Like sandblasting at the nanometer scale, focused beams of ions ablate hard materials to form intricate three-dimensional patterns. The beams can create tiny features in the lateral dimensions—length and width, but to create ...

Engineers create plants that glow

December 13, 2017

Imagine that instead of switching on a lamp when it gets dark, you could read by the light of a glowing plant on your desk.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2011
Its a cool idea, no numbers though. Surely there is a happy medium somewhere between the press release (this) and the actual paper that a physics site should strive for? Are any of the writers even physicicts?
Anyway, efficiency measures would be interesting and a comparison to other technologies. Also, if you touch the stuff do you get a shock? How is it insulated from the environment?
not rated yet Jun 30, 2011
Physorg has had many articles relating to new developments in solar energy tech. This has got to be the most exciting one as it seems to promise making solar energy more economic (and sooner than other advances).
not rated yet Jul 03, 2011
COME ON! We were supposed to have these (thin/flexible/printable solar cells) in production 5 years ago! I'm tired of hearing about them, I wanna see them! The only ones actually being made are the ones by Stan Ovshinsky and he's just a dude!

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.