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The Latest in Solar Tech: “Printable” Cells

The Latest in Solar Tech: “Printable” Cells

We all know that solar technology has the potential to revolutionize how we consume energy and power our homes. Unfortunately, the high cost of materials and construction means that traditional solar panels still aren’t practical for everyone. But a new kind of solar cell may change all that. It’s super cheap and easy to install: these solar cells are “printable!”

The technology is called dye-sensitized solar, or DSS. According to Solarfeeds.com, DSS cells work similar to an alkaline battery. The DSS cells are made of a porous layer of titanium dioxide nano particles, then covered with a molecular dye and submerged in an electrolyte solution with a platinum-based catalyst. The molecular dye absorbs sunlight, which activates the electrons. The electrons enter the titanium dioxide layer and flow towards the transparent electrode, gathering energy and finally creating power.

DSS cells are lightweight, flexible and relatively inexpensive. They can be literally painted onto all kinds of surfaces and disguised with attractive colors and designs. But applying DSS cells is still an extra step — at least, it used to be. Recently, two companies have found a way to incorporate DSS cells in raw materials. The process is being described as “printing.”

CNET reports that Australian solar developer Dyesol has partnered with manufacturer Tata Steel to coat 10-foot steel girders with a single, continuous DSS cell. Instead of painting a composite of DSS cells onto an existing girder, the coating is applied directly during the girder’s construction. “It’s the world’s largest dye-sensitized solar cell module,” writes CNET’s Candace Lombardi.

This new “printing” process will enable manufacturers like Tata to embed solar technology in a high volume of materials at low cost. Dyesol and Tata are also planning to develop “printable” solar roofs, windows and even automotive materials, and they’re not the only companies working on integrated solar. In a few years, this new technology could make solar power a default feature in new homes and buildings. “Printing” might even power the office inkjet!

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Photo credit: Living Off Grid

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some of the best people we know are doing it

34 comments

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6:09AM PST on Feb 18, 2012

Sounds good but how cheap would it be to have one?

4:10AM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

now they just need to put it into use

2:21PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Noted with interest.

3:34AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

If we would switch to a carbon tax instead of cap and trade, it would make renewable energy in general more competitive with fossil fuel. We need to make the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy before we run out of fossil fuel. We are already past peak oil. So much so that we are alternating between oil shortages/price spikes that cause recessions and recovery from recessions that cause yet another oil shortage/price spike. We need something 18-wheeler freight trucks can run on, probably bio-diesel, preferable from algae.

4:17AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

The change in government required to mainstream this technology is getting them out of bed with corporations. Banning lobbying would be an excellent first step.

2:04AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

it is good to know that we are realising that the world is in danger and taking a few steps that cause no harm to environment but also helping humans to get energy cheaper,better and eco-friendly mode of energy

5:37AM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

still need a big change in government thinking to back these kinds of technologies rather than subsidising the sunset industries - coal, oil, cars ...

4:03AM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

Solar energy is the best thing that one can have provided the cost within the reach of common men

2:40AM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

Oh, and one of the world's most efficient Panels is/was made in the US by US company Sunpower - unfortunately, also one of the world's most expensive.

While Uni-solar - the world's largest manufacturer of flexible thin film is also a US company.

You are doing it, but your political leaders don't want you to be doing it because their buddies in nuclear and oil and coal get upset and stop giving them money.

2:33AM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

To correct a false statement made earlier. Thin film (printed) photovoltaic technologies are approximately HALF as efficient as standard crystalline cells. They are *generally* cheaper to manufacture, because they don't have the highly energy intensive silicon crystal growing process, but not HALF as expensive. This technology *may* at some indeterminate point in the future outstrip standard crystalline panels, but the likelihood is that for standard domestic or commercial rooftop installations, standard panels are more cost effective. The places where thin film technologies win massively over standard cells is in very hot places and quite shady places, as they are less affected by high temperatures (although, still some) and capture a wider range of wavelengths of light meaning they aren't quite as affected by shading (although still a bit).

I estimate this technology won't be seen commercially for at least 5 years. Thin film has been around for ages, but the cost/benefit calculation generally leans in favour of crystalline technologies.

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