Thursday, September 20, 2007

Print Your Own Solar Cells!

This is a repost from the fantastic Earth & Sky Blog!

The Sun, the source of our solar energy.
Photo: NASA SOHO

Someday you’ll be able to print out solar cells on your home printer.

Conventional solar cells that are used on buildings and satellites are made from purified silicon. But, over the past decade, scientists have been exploring the potential of a polymer material that can be easily coated, or painted on, to surfaces like laptops, appliances or cars.

They’re called “organic” solar cells. Earth & Sky spoke to Somenath Mitra at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. His recent contribution is a type of organic solar cell that combines fullerenes – or buckyballs – with carbon nanotubes. The buckyballs trap electrons from light, and the tiny nanotubes act like wires to conduct the electric current.

Mitra told Earth & Sky that organic solar cell technology should lead to solar cells you can print from a home computer in about five to 10 years. Organic solar cells still have a way to go, though, before they’re as efficient as conventional solar cells.

Meanwhile, Mitra told Earth & Sky that much of the promise of solar energy depends on cost. The pace of development will pick up even more, he said, when solar panels become much cheaper – or when our power bills become much higher.

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