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Elusive solar paint formulas seek funding.

Several researchers around the world have come up with what they believe could be an inexpensive solution for solar photovoltaic power: a common paint formula with embedded particles that will yield a power flow. While funding to move these projects toward a commercial phase is tight, it may be secured over the near term and permit a commercial product in as little as five years, according to Somenath Mitra, a professor of chemistry and environmental sciences at New Jersey Institute of Science, in Newark.

"We have been improving on what we originally developed, and have been talking about funding with several private investors and institutions, so the technology will probably be available in the next five to ten years depending on oil prices," said Mitra. "But that's a conservative estimate. The funding could also involve government investment."

Going into further detail, Mitra said, "Our technology is to use organic polymers that release electrons, which are captured by carbon-60 molecules--or Buckyballs. Carbon nanotubes then act as charge carriers to create a flow of current. These structures could be put into some kind of a bath, such as titanium dioxide. Thus far we've tried using these structures on polyethylene terepthalate, or PET plastic.

"This is a new technology, so thus far we are only getting about a 1.5-2.0% solar conversion rate, but once we have more funding, we could alter the chemistry to improve it," Mitra continued. "If we could get the rate up to between five and seven percent--about a quarter of the rate for traditional silicon devices--that would be good, because it would be much cheaper to produce than silicon solar cells."

Another solar paint research project has been taking place at Swansea University's School of Engineering, in Swansea, Wales, under Professor David Worsley. Their technology involves bonding light-sensitive dye molecules to titanium dioxide particles, which is applied as a paste to steel surfaces. The project arose from a study of steel paint corrosion. It has a reported solar conversion rate of five percent, and estimates are that it could be commercially available in as little as two years.

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Yet another project involving dye is being developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Marc Baldo, an associate professor of engineering and computer science. His technology involves using organic dye as a coating on the glass focal point of solar concentrators, in place of mirrors, the current technology. The dyes absorb light energy at different wavelengths, then transmit it to solar cells at the edge of the collector.

Other dye-based solar projects have been studied at the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy and at the University of Toronto, among other institutions.

One commercial product, which comes close to solar paint is an ink-based product being commercialized by Nanosolar, of San Jose, CA. The company is embedding semiconductor particles in ink, which is then coated onto long rolls of aluminum foil and cut into solar panels. The company suggests it can turn out solar panels at a tenth of the cost of other thin-film solar panel makers. The first panels have already been shipped, so performance data should be forthcoming soon.

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BY CHARLES THURSTON

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Author:Thurston, Charles
Publication:Coatings World
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:530
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