New technique offers spray-on solar power

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

One reason that traditional solar panels found limited use is because they are bulky, heavy, and large (and not to mention expensive, though their cost has been decreasing quickly), so it only made sense to put them on flat, stationary structures such as roofs. However, a postdoc at the University of Toronto named Illan Kramer didn’t see why solar cell material couldn’t be made flexible, so it could be applied to almost any surface. With colleagues, he developed a way to spray on colloidal quantum dots (CQDs, which are tiny and sensitive to light) onto flexible surfaces. To help make sense of what a CQD is, exactly, the American Heritage Science Dictionary says that colloid means “a mixture in which very small particles of one substance are distributed evenly throughout another substance. The particles are generally larger than those in a solution, and smaller than those in a suspension. Paints, milk, and fog are colloids.”  One of the definitions of quantum for physics is, “the smallest quantity of radiant energy, equal to Planck’s constant times the frequency of the associated radiation.”

CQDs can be incorporated into a liquid that can be sprayed onto something flexible such as plastic or film in single-atom layers.  This film can then coat weird-shaped materials.  The amazing part is, Kramer has shown that using this spray technique does not cause any loss in solar-cell efficiency. In some cases, it even has improved performance over the traditional batch-processing method. The sprayer for the CQDs is made out of a spray nozzle that steel millls use to cool steel with a water mist and art store-quality air brushes.

In the future, CQDs could be sprayed on to house roofs, airplane wings, and car roofs (a car roof could then power 24 CFL bulbs!) for a start. It will be interesting to see how quickly this technology can be manufactured and used widely!

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.