Now that Snooki has introduced the TV-viewing world to the glories of spray-on tans, the concept of spray-on solar power doesn’t seem so far fetched. In the solar powered world of the future you can spray-paint energy producing photovoltaic cells onto just about any surface, including windows. That’s what a company called New Energy Technologies is pursuing with its SolarWindow technology, which was developed by researchers at the University of South Florida.
Solar Energy from Roofs, Walls, and Windows
The idea of incorporating solar energy into building elements is not new. In addition to solar roof tiles, researchers are developing solar hot water heaters that integrate into roofs, and solar panels that double as exterior “curtain” walls. Windows pose a challenge for solar energy collection, though, because of course one would like to see out of them and use them for daylighting, which would be difficult if they were covered with conventional photovoltaic cells.
Organic Photovoltaic Cells and Solar Windows
That’s where organic photovoltaic cells come in. In contrast to silicon-based solar cells, which are made from a metalloid (silicon), organic solar cells are carbon-based. New Energy has built its SolarWindow technology around ultra-thin organic photovoltaic cells. The new organic solar cells can be sprayed onto glass at room temperature, eliminating the expensive, energy-hungry operations needed to produce conventional solar panels. The company also claims that its product can draw energy from artificial light as well as natural daylight. As a sustainability bonus, the use of organic materials also eliminates the need for exotic or toxic metals.
It’s a Spray-On Solar World, We Just Live in It
Although organic solar cells seem poised for world domination, it’s too early to bump silicon and other solar technologies to the back. In addition to a dizzying array of advances in low cost solar cells, spray-on silicon solar ink and solar paint are close to commercialization, too.
Image (altered): Spray can by AMagill on flickr.com.