Solar Paint


solar paintA new solar power technology promises to power planes, trains and automobiles with paint.

In fact, anything that has exposure to sunlight could be painted for power – fences, walls, rooftops …even smartphones.

The secret is a paint-on, quantum-dot solar cell technology developed by Ted Sargent, a Research Chair in nanotechnology at the University of Toronto.

The paint is loaded with quantum dots that are extremely small measuring only a few nanometres in diameter. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre or about ten thousand times thinner than a human hair.

These tiny dots can convert sunlight into electricity just like conventional solar cells but unlike traditional solar cells, the solar power cost of quantum dots is a lot cheaper.

A square meter of solar paint is about $15 versus $1000 for a comparable solar panel.

The cost of making conventional solar panels is a major deterrent in expanding our use of solar energy. Solar cells are expensive to manufacture because silicon crystals are grown in high heat furnaces, cooled, then cut into thin wafers in sterile environments.

Solar electricity currently accounts for less than 1% of our energy supply yet enough sunshine hits Earth in just one hour to fulfill our worldwide energy needs for an entire year.

The problem is that our technologies remain relatively inefficient in capturing, converting, and storing all this free sunshine.

quantum dotsBut Sargent believes that the low cost of solar paint will accelerate the use of solar energy.

Covering 150,000 square kilometers of surfaces with solar paint, in theory, would supply the energy requirements for the entire planet. Yet solar paint only converts 6 percent of the sunshine received into electricity compared to 17 percent for conventional solar cells.

Sargent points out that five years ago solar paint had a 0 percent efficiency rate due to impurities obstructing the flow of electrons and the inability to convert infrared light into electricity.

According to Michael McGehee of Stanford University, a renowned expert in organic solar cells, a power conversion efficiency rate of 6% percent for quantum dots is a very impressive progression. “At 10 per cent you start to have something compelling,” adds Sargent.

With innovations in solar power technology such as solar paint, scientists predict that our use of solar energy will continually increase until it eventually becomes our major source of electricity.



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