Spray-on solar panels are a new technology first developed at Australian National University (ANU). The solar cells are made of quantum dots, which are nanoparticles that behave as semiconductors. The idea is to make the solar panels from this material and then spray them during manufacturing with two different films (hydrogen and anti-reflective) as the panels pass by on a conveyor belt.
Scientists also were testing spray-on solar cells at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011. One reason for the new technology is to replace the bulkier devices that many people hesitate to put on their roofs or on their lawns [source: National Science Foundation]. The Texas-based cells are based on the same premise as the ones developed at ANU -- they can be applied much like spray paint. At the University of Alberta in Edmonton, a team working on spray-on solar panels says their plastic spray-on panels are as thin as human hair. The team says the cells could even be woven into fabric and used to quickly recharge cell phones when on the go [source: CBC News]. If sprayed onto windows, the solar spray-on panels could produce a window tint that brings more energy into a home than a regular clear glass, but allows people inside to see out [source: BrightEnergy.org].
Spray-on plastic solar panels would be able to collect infrared light waves, along with the usual visible sunlight. In addition, these panels would be lighter, making them useful for all sorts of applications, from recharging on-the-go to replacing heavy battery packs for soldiers in combat. The spray-on panels are not ready for commercial use yet; they have to be more efficient first. They'll also have to be easy and inexpensive to produce, but some of the raw materials used in the cells are hard to come by and expensive. One idea for production is to print the cells on thin, flexible sheets, much like newspaper printing.
The University of Alberta hopes to have their spray-on cells ready by 2015. Anything that can make use of solar energy more convenient and affordable should lead more people to choose it over fossil fuels, which only can help the environment. And that just ensures the sun keeps shining through a nice, clean sky.
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