Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. “The process is simple,” said lead researcher and author Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of NJIT’s Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. “Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations.”
“Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells,” featured as the June 21, 2007 cover story of the Journal of Materials Chemistry published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, details the process. The Society, based at Oxford University, is the British equivalent of the American Chemical Society.
These solar cells are built out of carbon nanotubes and carbon fullerenes.
The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, which by the way, is a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. The name is derived from the tube’s miniscule size. Scientists estimate nanotubes to be 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. Nevertheless, just one nanotube can conduct current better than any conventional electrical wire. “Actually, nanotubes are significantly better conductors than copper,” Mitra added.
Mitra and his research team took the carbon nanotubes and combined them with tiny carbon Buckyballs (known as fullerenes) to form snake-like structures. Buckyballs trap electrons, although they can’t make electrons flow. Add sunlight to excite the polymers, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons. Nanotubes, behaving like copper wires, will then be able to make the electrons or current flow.
Does Mitra argue this approach is cheap because it is cheap already? Or does his approach depend on the eventual development of much cheaper ways to produce nanotubes or buckyballs? Does anyone know what the state of the play is for creation of carbon nanomaterials on an industrial scale?
If this stuff becomes cheap enough then it would not matter that the carbon bonds gradually break down due to UV light hitting them. One could just repaint surfaces every 7 or 10 years. Note that car and house paint can last that long and longer.
Cheap photovoltaics will make mid day electricity much cheaper than late afternoon and evening electricity. We need dynamic electric pricing in order to use photovoltaic electricity efficiently. We have plenty of ways to shift our demand around in a 24 period or even between seasons in some cases. Cheap photovoltaics might lead electric intensive industries such as aluminum to shift the bulk of their processing to spring and summer and into areas such as Arizona which have the most sunlight.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2007 July 21 10:31 PM Energy Solar|