Technology is advancing at an incredible rate, and just as the world is trying to get more energy efficient with photovoltaic solar panels, one inventor has created solar cells that can be painted onto materials! What next, wallpaper you can taste like the scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? “The snozberries taste like snozberries.”
Ted Sargent, the Chair of Canada Research in Nanotechnology has created the world’s first paint-on solar cell, the size of a stamp. This new technology has the potential to coat electrical goods such as mobile phones, e-readers, laptops, cameras, even cars, walls, rooftops and maybe on a large scale, deserts!
Sargent has been working on the idea for years, but recently it was thought to be worth a $10 million investment from some Saudi Arabians, who are looking for alternatives to maintain the energy wealth in the country. They have described this technology as a “potential game changer.”
Coal, oil and gas prices are still increasing and are flooding the world with CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which need to be dealt with and this new technology could be another step in overcoming our carbon footprint. The only issue is there are no current alternatives that can offer as much power as the eco-harmful methods used now.
Solar is an eco-friendly method and an obvious choice as the sun bathes the earth in 100,000 terawatts of energy, producing enough energy in an hour to power the planet for a whole year! We currently use about 15 terawatts of energy a year, so the sun is one energy source we need to utilise better.
Sargent hopes to make his solar cells the cheapest around, that effectively and effortlessly harness the suns energy. Some teams across the world are working on creating a super-thin semiconductor, which is currently one of the most expensive parts to make, and it could be made more efficient too. A semiconductor contains silicon crystals, which are grown in high temperature furnaces, cooled and then sliced to be used.
These new type of solar cells are painted with quantum dots, which capture energy from light and convert it into electricity, much like a semiconductor. Quantum dots are cheaper than a semiconductor to produce, costing a mere $15-$20 to make 1 square metre. Each dot is a crystal created by heating different components together, which then forms an oily black ink that is loaded with crystals, which are only nanometres wide. Each quantum dot collects an array of coloured light and different types of light, including infra-red, which carries nearly half of the solar energy hitting the earth.
From here quantum dots could then be mass produced and layered onto numerous different materials which could then coat anything from phones to deserts. The possibilities are endless and the production cost should eventually be outweighed by the financial, ecological and economical advantages.
Although the possibilities are endless, it is not yet a reality as Sargent has only managed to achieve 6 of energy absorption from the solar paint, but with technological advancements occurring regularly, with forecasters predicting solar energy will supply the world with 15 of its total energy consumption by 2030; I don’t think it will be too long before it is a mainstream product.