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."
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.
"Using this unique combination in an organic solar cell recipe can enhance the efficiency of future painted-on solar cells," said Mitra. "Someday, I hope to see this process become an inexpensive energy alternative for households around the world."
"Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells," published June 21, 2007 in the Journal of Materials Chemistry by the Royal Society of Chemistry, outlines the process.