Massachusetts based solar upstart Konarka has developed a low cost thin-film solar material that may one day revolutionize solar power.
We all know that traditional photovoltaic panels are a great way to harness the sun’s energy and provide power to the grid. Such panels, however, are limited in application due to their high production cost, fragile nature and sheer size. Could you ever imagine wearing a solar panel in order to charge your cell phone or iPod? Probably not. This may soon change due to an innovative new solar film developed by solar upstart Konarka.
The material, called Power Plastic®, is a lightweight, flexible and inexpensive source of power for portable devices and structures. While Power Plastic® is currently being used in handbags and patio umbrellas to charge portable devices, Konarka hopes to perfect a translucent version of the product within the new few years.
The solar film is made by printing a secret polymer ink onto thin filmstrips using a converted Polaroid press. When light contacts the film, the ink emits electrons and generates an electric current.
Power Plastic® has several advantages over traditional photovoltaic technology including a higher efficiency at low light levels, the ability to flex to a 2-inch diameter and an extremely low production cost. The flexibility factor means that the solar film can be integrated into new materials such as fabrics.
Maybe one day we will be able to charge our portable devices simply by slipping them into the pocket of our solar powered outerwear. Once a translucent version of the material is finalized, perhaps skyscrapers will be made with Power Plastic® windows capable of powering the entire building.
The only drawback that I can see in such a material is that its current shelf life is only about 5 years. This may not be much of an issue since the material is inexpensive and can be easily replaced.
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