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Power Science

Cheap Paint-able Solar Cells Developed 254

Invisible Pink Unicorn writes "Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. According to the lead researcher, "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 team combined carbon nanotubes with tiny carbon buckyballs (fullerenes) to form snake-like structures. Add sunlight to excite the polymers, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons. The article abstract is available through the Journal of Materials Chemistry, with an illustration of the technology."
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Cheap Paint-able Solar Cells Developed

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  • Nah... not yet. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by plowboylifestyle ( 862919 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:22PM (#19922433)
    The problem with the article is that it uses the words "have developed" as in "have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets" when in reality it sounds more like "have an idea for" or "have developed a concept for" pending the advancement of material science. I seems they haven't built or tested..I mean painted a prototype, so the article is getting ahead of itself a bit maybe.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by russ1337 ( 938915 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:26PM (#19922465)
    It will take a drop in price before solar panels finally hit the big time

    I currently live in Texas and have had a summer electricity bill of over $400 for one month, last year. It won't take TXU's "increased prices due to demand" *cough* gouging *cough* much more, for me to splash out 8 grand for 2 large solar cells just to power a mid-size stand alone Cooling/heating unit....

    The lower the cost of the panels just recoups my investment earlier, but its almost worth doing for the sheer smugness gained by not paying the electric company summer ransom.
  • Enough energy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:27PM (#19922475)
    One thing I've always been curious about (and it may seem obvious, though I don't know), is whether or not we could subsist off solar energy, if we could use it efficiently. Answer: oh yeah! (easily)

    From wikipedia []

    4.26×10^20 J, the yearly energy consumption of the world as of 2001

    5.5×10^ 24 J, the total energy from the Sun that strikes the face of the Earth each year

    We only use about 1/10000 of the total solar energy (as of 2001).
  • by w.timmeh ( 906406 ) * on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:30PM (#19922489)
    Carbon nanotubes are cited in the article as having excellent electron transport properties. In organic photovoltaic devices, charge separation and efficient electron (and hole) transport are desirable properties. Perhaps if the nanotubes do have these properties then the researchers should investigate them?
  • Very promising. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jshriverWVU ( 810740 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:34PM (#19922511)
    Glad to see photovoltaics doing well, while this is a welcome advancement. I'd personally love to see more juice per square CM of solar cells. So instead of painting my house with cells just to power my TV, I'd rather have a dense 1 foot square solar cell powerful enough to power my TV and computer.
  • Electric lighting is much more efficient in terms of lumens per BTU than a candle or kerosene lamp, so one would think that people who get electricity and electric lighting to replace their candles and lamps reduce their energy usage. In fact, what happens is that their usage goes up by an order of magnitude. When folks in third world countries use candles and oil lamps, they maximize their use of sunlight, only use light sources when necessary and often for task lighting, take advantage of full moons, and watch consumption closely. With electricity, they use bright area lights for task work, leave lights on in adjacent (or even unoccupied) rooms, and other things unimaginable to them just months before.

    The reverse case, living on a battery bank and solar panel, follows a similar pattern. When living on battery, tracking your power levels becomes second nature. You become much more aware of what you are using and start to make trade-offs in your mind: do I really want to watch that movie and draw down the battery bank when I could just as easily read a book (or go to bed at dark and get up earlier, or actually talk to my wife, or...) It is not a matter of suffering or 'making do', but just finding you don't need as much as you thought you did. In the summer when the battery banks are overflowing, you splurge, like running the ice cream maker.

    Having gone back and forth between these worlds a few times, I am very aware of the power I expend. Right now, my wife and I have one light bulb (a CFL) on in the entire house. There have been times and places that even burning a single light this long after dark would have been unusual.

    So, yes, solar panels can provide enough power to run your life, particularly if you make the logical adjustments to living with a variable and finite source of power. We get so used to flipping a switch and not thinking about where the power comes from, that we expect the exact same out of renewable power sources. It also means that we are horrible at dealing with emergencies or changes of fortune. But we don't have to live that way.
  • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @11:27PM (#19922845)
    What would be really elegant is painting roads to collect solar power for cars. There is a whole lot of road out there!
  • Re:Enough energy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Friday July 20, 2007 @12:12AM (#19923099) Journal

    Nuclear is about the only source (okay, geothermal, too) that isn't a form of solar energy.

    Everything else you say is true, but to nitpick: isn't nuclear power another form of "stored" solar energy? Those heavy elements were originally formed in stars that blew up. Nuclear power is solar energy from dead suns!

    Cool to think about, and a point to confound anti-nuclear power types....

  • Go Highlanders! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ynososiduts ( 1064782 ) on Friday July 20, 2007 @12:20AM (#19923145)
    Woo! For some reason when developments like this come out of a school you attend, a wave of pride just comes over you. They actually have an impressive solar array on top of the Student Center with a little terminal that reads out the power production. It's pretty nifty. I believe it's the biggest array in New Jersey. I'm glad they are making progress. Now all they need to do is develop a way for girls to attend the school.
  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Friday July 20, 2007 @01:24AM (#19923509)
    And then those danm hippies will say we're overusing the Sun's light.

    I'm not a republican, I'm just joking.

    When you see this type of logic and it is meant, it's very revealing that they aren't listening to what you say, only what you sound like when you say it. "If you want me to do X, and I do X, you'll just say I should be doing Y because you complain and complain and that's all you do- I have therefore categorized you as an idiot or [member of disliked group] and so anything you say about X must not be true." Anyone who brings it up is automatically an idiot whose opinions can be disregarded. Similar thinking: "If you think X is a problem, you shouldn't be talking about it unless it has affected you personally, otherwise you've either got no idea whether X is really a problem, or you have an ulterior motive and secretly want to make it worse." If the person is affected by X, then aha, that's why. People who think like this drive me crazy. And there are so many of them. They especially fall for "bias"-type arguments. There is no messenger you cannot impeach with an attitude like that, and by impeaching the right messengers you're free to construct any sort of alternate paper-thin reality you want that can exclude any X you choose.

    So if this takes off and ends up confusing the bees or something, I think they're pretty much screwed.

    These guys should make a hydrophobic liquid that can be poured on top of a large water surface, like a swimming pool, and turn it into a big solar cell. That way you could just pour it on your pool to get a few kilowatts of free power and during an energy crisis we can just go to a large body of water and pour a big photovoltaic slick across the water. Yee hah wouldn't that piss off the hippies! Of course the drawback here is obvious: no swimming pool when the A/C is on.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Friday July 20, 2007 @01:46AM (#19923603) Homepage
    I just thought of this so it may not work, but... maybe instead of 8 grand for solar cells, spend 2 grand on mirrors and 1-inch-think polystyrene sheets? Cover your external walls and roof with mirrored insulation and I'd imagine you'd drop your cooling power requirements by an order of magnitude.

    I know I know, damn hippies and their passive thermally-efficient spacecake-looking houses... :P
  • Re:Enough energy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Danny Rathjens ( 8471 ) <slashdot2@rathje ... org minus distro> on Friday July 20, 2007 @02:36AM (#19923835)
    Nuclear is about the only source (okay, geothermal, too) that isn't a form of solar energy

    Tidal power, too. :) It comes from the rotational energy of earth and orbit of the moon.
    Actually, solar energy *is* nuclear since stars are big fusion reactors. :)
  • Re:Interesting (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 20, 2007 @03:57AM (#19924163)
    At $400 per month, I would check to see how much of that is just the cooling bill and how much is increased energy costs. I think I would agree on the gouging too.

    I would also check the life expectancy of the solar panels and weather they have the ability to save the excess charge to use when the sun isn't available. $400 per month (assuming your other electrical needs are trivial to the cooling, would take almost 2 years to recoup the costs and break even. Now, on top of that, you only have the sun half the day when it isn't raining so you can almost double that to 4 years to break even with half to a third of your cooling bill on top still. If it still looks good after that and the cells will last longer then the break even point, go for it. If it doesn't, then find another excuse to do it, saving money is probably not going to happen.

    On the other hand, as some people have already noted, redoing the insulation and maybe adding some more might go a lot further then solar cells would. This is especially true if you have the blown in cellulose type of insulation that from what I have been told can be effected many different ways and lose it's ability to insulate after a period of time. Water seems to be the most damaging. Also, Something that had happened with My fathers 10 year old house, they use the spray foam insulation, Well the settling had caused crack to develop that while the wall still had a good R value, the equivalent of a 3 inch hole spread through a crack about half a centimeter and several feet long defeated the effectiveness.

    There are people you can call who will hook a large fan to your door and check for leaks in the insulation and then use infrared (not the green night vision but the one on the other end of the spectrum) to find hot or cold spots and help you seal the house up. My dad heats with wood and this process took him from 6 to 7 cord a year with a chilly house to a more then hot enough house with 2-3 cord or so. He only air conditions the bedroom with a small window mount unit and he says it doesn't come on as often as it used to. The rest of the house, if you can get it somewhat cool at night, it doesn't heat up in the day unless you open the curtains in the souther room and let the sun in. He also got some plastic that blocks or reflects the majority of the sunlight that causes the room to heat up. This is removable in the winter time and reusable the next year. Helps a lot.
  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Friday July 20, 2007 @09:50AM (#19926213) Journal
    I live in middle South Carolina. I had 3 different companies quote me solar installations for a new home I'm building. The best offer was going to take me 23 years to recoup the cost, assuming the cells actually lasted that long without failure, hail damage, or other issues out of warranty. All that money would still have only covered about 60% on average of my electric bill. My house is also in a lucky position where both sides of the A frame roof could have had cells and received sun all day long (roof faces N/S). This quote included covering the entire roof with cells that would have had an overhang on both sides of an additional 8 inches.

    To get to 100% green solar energy, I was not only going to have to cover my entire roof, but add an additional bank of cells in the back yard almost 40 feet across that would actually track the sun as it moved. Since South Carolina only offers a single, one time solar subsidy of $2000 (which is actually federal money, meaning SC gives us NOTHING!), it would have taken me 27 years to pay off a complete 100% efficient solar solution (23 years at 60% efficiency). This did not take into account my added insurance value on the home, including solar panel rider policy outside of my deductibles, nor routine maintenance on the system, the fees and taxes I would still pay monthly to be on the grid (to sell power in the summer and buy it back in the winter), not interest paid on the mortgage for the system.

    For solar to become reasonable for most people, the time to recoup the cost of the solution must be less time than the warranty on the product lasts. Say 5-7 years. Many states offer awesome solar subsidies, covering as much as 80% of the cost of the system up front. Even with that, my home would be an eyesore using current technology. Solar panels need to get to about 25% efficiency before even half of America can use them within reason.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb