Spray-on solar cells use nanotechnology. These cells are made using quantum dots, which is a nanocrystal composed of a semiconductor material that is small enough to take advantage of the laws of quantum mechanics.
Pradhnya Tajne | Transparency Market Research
First came photovoltaic cells, then an improved version called thin-film photovoltaic, and then came spray-on solar cells promising to revolutionize the technology of solar energy.
Photovoltaics Vs. Thin-film PVs Vs. Sprayed Solar Cells
Currently, commercial photovoltaic (PV) solar technologies depend on solar cells composed of silicon. The silicon is coated with a thin antireflective coating made of silicon nitrate, which enhances the solar cell’s capability of collecting sunlight. However, this technology costs a lot more to build and install, which is more than what people are willing to pay. These commercial solar cells are expensive to manufacture, because they use hydrogen plasma to collect sunlight and are made in a vacuum.
On the other hand, thin-film photovoltaic solar cells are made using cheaper materials. But, even then thin-film PVs are expensive. Why? Because, the process of making thin-film PVs is much more complex, adding substantially to final costs.
Spray-on solar cells, a breakthrough solar technology can turn the sun’s rays into energy, even on a cloudy day in a very cost-effective manner. However, a lot of research and development is going on to improve the efficiency of this technology so that it can be implemented practically.
How do Sprayed Solar Cells Work?
Spray-on solar cells use nanotechnology. These cells are made using quantum dots, which is a nanocrystal composed of a semiconductor material that is small enough to take advantage of the laws of quantum mechanics. They have become the core of a new, rapidly-evolving field of research which promises highly-efficient solar cells, lasers, transistors, etc.
Researchers have combined these specially designed quantum dots with a polymer to create a plastic composite that can be sprayed on other materials. Previously, researchers stated that the spray-on solar cells could be sprayed only on flat objects but that is no longer the case. Scientists are now discovering ways to apply spray-on solar cells to even curved objects. Effectively, these cells can be used to coat everyday surfaces.
With this, the possibilities of obtaining portable energy become infinite. Sample this: a t-shirt coated with spray-on solar cells can be used to power a smartphone. Or, a car’s surface could charge the car’s battery.
Moreover, these revolutionary solar cells will not only be able to harness the sun’s visible rays, but also those outside the visible spectrum, i.e., the infrared spectrum. Every being living or non-living that is warm, gives off some amount of heat. Hence, there is some power which remains in the infrared spectrum, even if it’s dark. The plastic composite made using the special polymer and quantum dots is capable of detecting this infrared energy and putting it to tangible use.
Though the technology of sprayed solar cells holds strong promise for the future, a lot of research is required to enhance the efficiency of these cells. Currently, scientists estimate the efficiency of a quantum dot solar cell at 9%. In 2014, at the University of Toronto, scientists recorded a solar efficiency of 8% for colloidal quantum dots (CQD).
This is approximately half the performance of what commercial bulk silicon cells offer. Nevertheless, rapid progress has been displayed by researchers over the years to enhance the efficiency of this new technology.
Recently, Illan Kramer with the Ted Sargent group at the University of Toronto and IBM Canada’s Research and Development Centre invented a new way to spray solar cells on flexible surfaces using CQDs. This is another step towards making sprayed solar cells technology much easier and cost-effective to manufacture. Previously, it was possible to incorporate CQDs on surfaces only using batch processing, an expensive assembly-line approach to coating chemicals. However, the system devised by Kramer and his team – called sprayLD – allows blasting a liquid containing CQDs directly on flexible surfaces such as plastic or film. This roll-to-roll coating system renders incorporating solar cells into the current manufacturing process much easier, without major loss in solar-cell efficiency.
Kramer commented, “My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof”.
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