New Zealand is a land of wonderful landscapes, beautiful scenery, and lots of sheep – and soon it will be known as the land of cheap solar power, thanks to the work of Dr. Wayne Campbell at the Nanomaterials Research Centre from Massey University. After 10 years of research, Dr. Campbell has developed solar cell technology capable of generating electricity at a 10th of the cost of current silicon based solar cells.
The technology works by using synthetic dyes made from simple organic compounds patterned after the light harvesting pigments found in plants. The main component is titanium dioxide, a non-toxic material obtained in New Zealand, which allow the dyes to operate even in diffused sunlight. It also makes the manufacturing of these panels a bit easier on the environment, as the technology does not require the amount of infrastructure needed for silicone manufacturing, and even lends itself to local manufacturing.
While the idea behind this technology is not new, the breakthrough in the development of these dyes has put them ahead of similar programs in the US and Japan. While the dyes produce less energy per square meter than those of a standard silicone panel, the fact that they are considerably less expensive makes the use of this technology worthwhile.
There is one other benefit in this technology which is actually pretty darn cool. Because of the nature of the dyes, it is possible for them to be incorporated into everything from wall and roof panels, and of all things, clothing. Which means that someday soon, you might be plugging in not to the electrical outlet, but to your clothes to recharge the numerous gadgets that one carries these days. They expect to have a commercial product within the end of the decade.