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SolarPrint Develops Ready-To-Print Solar Cells
Irish company SolarPrint has developed a new type of printable solar cells that can be produced quickly and easily and can even generate energy from fading sunlight. Since the dye-sensitized cells use less raw materials than traditional solar cells, costs can be kept down, and it is hoped that the simple-to-produce solar cells will transform how the world uses energy.
Speaking to GreenTechMedia, SolarPrint co-founder and CEO Mazhar Bari said, “When you are travelling around the world you suddenly realize, ‘Where are the bloody solar panels?’” With that in mind Bari, an Irish citizen with Pakistani roots and a physics degree from Cambridge, sent out to explore dye sensitized solar cell (DSSC) technology, that is “part printable, part liquid.”
SolarPrint effectively has eliminated the liquid part of DSSC and replaced it with nanomaterials, so that all of the active elements of SolarPrint’s cells can be applied in the printing process. The SolarPrint cells are also more efficient because they are based on a rounded nanotech structure instead of the traditional angular crystalline structure of silicon materials. Electrons have to hit the crystalline structures “at the right angle” to generate electricity, however in nanostructure cells a curved surface makes the angle of absorption much larger.
“There are many components in the cell. One layer is called the electrolyte layer.” As a liquid, that layer is “terrible,” Bari said, who is not one to mince his words. The efficiencies are adequate, he said, but “lab time is crap and it cannibalizes the materials in the cell.” The SolarPrint process replaces that liquid with a printable electrolyte paste made of smart nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes, graphene and ionic salts. “And it’s a fully printable device.”
However there is a drawback with the mass manufacturing of dye-sensitized solar cells. More and more consumers demand reliability from solar cells, with lifespans of up to 30 years, so there is concern when the cells can be produced cheaply and easily, especially as many seem to break down in due course.
However Bari believes that SolarPrint’s ability to capture low and overcast light levels both indoors and outside will give his company an edge in the market. “Dye solar cells work very well indoors,” Bari said. “The voltage doesn’t drop like crazy (like silicon) and it is able to produce reasonable power in indoor light — four or five times higher than silicon.” “One day, the whole world will be covered in dye solar cells. That’s our vision,” said Bari.
Images from SolarPrint
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