Paint your own solar panel

Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed onto flexible plastic sheets to create DIY solar panels.

‘The process is simple,’ said Somenath Mitra, the lead researcher. ‘Some day 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.’

According to Mitra, developing organic solar cells from polymers was a cheap and potentially simpler alternative source of renewable energy compared with large-scale infrastructures such as windmills or dams, and had a range of applications.

‘Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless,’ he said.

NJIT’s solar cell uses a carbon nanotubes complex, a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. The researchers combined the nanotubes with tiny carbon Buckyballs that trap electrons, known as fullerenes, to form snake-like structures. When sunlight excites the polymers, the Buckyballs grab the electrons, and the nanotubes, behaving like copper wires, then make the electrons flow.

The solar cells can range from a size of 1mm to several metres, and can be linked electronically to form panels of limitless size.