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Scientists develop spray-on solar panels

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Technology

spray on solar panel

A new type of spray-on solar panel will make the cells cheaper and production more efficient.

Credit: Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSES)

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Taking a leaf from the beauty industry, scientists have devised a way to make solar panels cheaper and more efficient - by spraying them on.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), solar company Spark Solar Australia, and Finnish materials company Braggone Oy are collaborating on a three-year project that could transform the production of solar cells.

"I think it has a big chance of success," said Keith McIntosh, lead researcher from the ANU, "It's an exciting possibility."

Solar cells are typically made of silicon coated with a thin layer of silicon nitrate - which is used as an antireflective agent to increase cell efficiency. However, these types of cells are costly to produce because they are made in a vacuum.

The plasma form of hydrogen, another expensive material used in solar cell production, is used to capture the energy from the sun's rays.

The new method developed by Braggone Oy uses a spray-on hydrogen film and spray-on anti-reflective film. Instead of the need for plasma and a vacuum, the cells simply travel along a conveyor belt where the films are sprayed on.

"The cells will be the same quality, but much cheaper," McIntosh said.

Testing of the process is now taking place at the ANU, and the technology should be available toward the end of 2011.

"About $5 million will be saved per medium-sized factory," McIntosh said. "These savings should be passed down to the consumer in a couple of years when demand for solar panels increases."

Besides the price advantage, the project aims to increase cell efficiency too. Presently, solar cells on the market range from 5 to 24 per cent efficiency.

Most of the cells energy is lost at its surface where the material is roughened. This is to increase the surface area that can absorb solar energy.

However, roughening the material also disrupts the cell's crystalline structure in the process.

"We want to roughen the surface in several different ways to study the different properties of each. Then we can find the best and most efficient surface," said Klaus Weber, also from the ANU.

Once an optimal surface is found, the cost of the cells would remain the same, but their efficiency and power would be greater, he said.

"What we are trying to get out of it is new ideas and processes to improve the efficiency of solar power," he added.

"If you can get the same efficiency as vacuums with this spray-on technology that's great; it will make the process a lot cheaper," said engineer Alistair Sproul from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. "All of this is a good step in the right direction."

Comments

This is an amazing thing. We need to use our natural energy source. :)

the current Sydney NSW incentives are pretty good, i just installed my Hyundai solar panels, modules, inverter and using the Solar panel rebate it really is worth it. i went through the guys at bluejuice. but honestly solar panels are a really exciting industry to be apart of at the moment. they continue to grow with the quality and with the rebate you really should take advantge of the opportunity and relish in the fact that in the long run you'll save heaps of cash. bluejuice.com.au

Most photovoltaics are currently made of silicon, but the inks developed by Korgel’s team are made up of copper indium gallium selenide (or CIGS) — sunlight-absorbing nanoparticles that are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These nanocrystals are made into a solution and then spraypainted onto a substrate. If the crystals can do what Korgel says they can do, this new method has the potential to boost the applications of solar power exponentially.

Since the photocell coatings are usually dark in color, they will heat up the surface of the roof while working. There are coatings available from SPI that will be applied first and the photocell coating applied over them to block this heat loading into the building while it is working.

It is about time. Government wants the world to go green, but then the cost is out of reach for the average home. This is a step in the right direction. Make it cheaper and more versatile.

In complete agreement, as there is little knowledge here which has not been already represented. The resources presented tell a fascinating story

thats amazing i had no idea that this kind of technology was possible. Solar power is a terrific way forward, it helps cut down on fossil fuels, its totally renewable, relatively inexpensive and its getting alot more efficient. Panels nowadays can get to about 42% efficiency. The greatest things is no CO2 which is good for the environment and helps cut down on the global warming effect.