March 11, 2008
Printable Solar Power.
Yes we all know about the inkjet mafia, with their over bloated prices and razor blade marketing techniques. But if all goes well with this latest breakthrough we may be printing out our own solar panels in the future. Massachusetts-based Konarka Technologies, Inc, a company with a healthy history of commercial experience, developed and demonstrated a commercial-grade process for printing cells on inkjet printers. The new process holds tremendous potential to revolutionize the solar photovoltaic industry. Konarka demonstrated the technology publicly and published its research that backs the process in Advanced Materials, entitled, “High Photovoltaic Performance of Inkjet Printed Polymer:Fullerene Blends” by Konarka researchers Dr. Stelios A. Choulis, Claudia N. Hoth, Dr. Pavel Schilinsky and Dr. Christoph J. Brabec. Typical photovoltaics require a clean room to maintain the delicate manufacturing conditions necessary in order to carry out silicon spin coating and other steps in the manufacturing process. These clean rooms are extremely expensive to build and maintain. While traditional photovoltaics can be profitable, Konarka’s inkjet photovoltaic’s promise to dramatically lower their cost, making solar power suddenly very competitive in terms of energy production per installation cost. Better yet, it will likely reduce the time it takes to produce the cells and allow for easier expansion of capacity. Demonstrating the use of inkjet printing technology as a fabrication tool for highly efficient solar cells and sensors with small area requirements is a major milestone. This essential breakthrough in the field of printed solar cells positions Konarka as an emerging leader in printed photovoltaic. The new solar cells use an organic bulk heterojunction, as opposed to the non-organic designs of traditional solar cells. The new organic-ink has the advantage of being deposited easily on a number of different substrates, unlike traditional inorganic semiconductor doping which can only be applied easily to a limited number of inorganic semiconductors. Konarka looks to deploy this technology in what it calls Power Plastic® — flexible plastic power producing sheets. One intriguing feature of the plastics is that Konarka can offer flexible plastic solar panels with printed patterns — such as bricks or camouflage, which although taking a slight hit on efficiency, could be an intriguing prospect for non-intrusive installation. The military already has contracted the company to build a series of camouflaged power-generating buildings.
Konarka plans on marketing the new tech to power laptops, cell phones, and more. The solar cells work with the full spectrum of visible light, so they can be charged indoors, not just in sunlight. Konarka advertises that a sheet not much bigger than a couple pieces of notebook paper could charge a laptop, when you’re on the go. Add to that the fact that my printer prints 12pages a minute it seems I may not need to pay off my electric bills anymore.