Windows into the Imagination
Friday, July 1, 2011
Science Fact or Fiction: Solar Power - Or Plugging in My Sweater
Plug it into your sweater.
Now, before people start thinking that I should be carted off to a place where the sun shines through cheerful mesh-wiring, wouldn't it be cool if your sweater, coated with a composite paint, could power a phone or a wireless device?
Or if a hydrogen-powered car, painted with a film of this material could convert enough energy to continually recharge the car's battery.
Enter spray-on paint.
The most common form of solar energy use photovoltaic cells but they have an enormous carbon footprint. The amount of material that goes into making them have a huge environmental impact and they are not particularly efficient at generating electricity.
Scientists have invented a plastic solar cell that can harness the sun's power, even on a cloudy day. Most solar cells can only harness half the sun's energy output, the rays from the visible spectrum. They don't convert the other half, the infrared rays. Using nanotechnology, scientists can now harness the full power of the sun.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working on a silicon based solar ink, and the University of Texas is developing spray-on solar cells. It can be sprayed on like paint on a roof or any building surface and dries to form microscopic interconnected solar cells.
Like wind farms, but without the huge turbines sticking out, researchers one day envision solar farms of plastic material that can be rolled across deserts and can generate enough clean energy to supply the entire planet's power needs.
Currently, even the best plastic solar cells can only harness abot six percent of the sun's energy but with further advances that could go up to 30%.
Hopefully, it will be within our lifetime...