The concept of spray-on solar cells is by no means a new approach - the Australian National University has been working on one for the past three years. The University of Texas at Austin team led by engineer Brian Korgel uses copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) as the main component for the ink used to manufacture the solar cell.
This nanoparticle ink allows manufacturers to completely deviate from the conventional expensive method of solar cell production.
Using this ink, solar cells can be made through a roll-to-roll printing process, similar to how newspapers are printed. Plastic substrate and stainless steel are a couple of possible bases for the printing.
The way the researchers see it, the ink might also be potent when painted on bare walls of buildings. Although yet to be achieved, this possibility gives the spray-on solar cell the potential to become widely used as a building-integrated photovoltaic. "You'd have to paint the light-absorbing material and a few other layers as well," Korgel said. "This is one step in the direction towards paintable solar cells."
However, with the current prototype displaying an efficiency of around one percent, Korgel's team still has a long way to go. "If we get to 10 percent, then there's real potential for commercialization," Korgel said. "If it works, I think you could see it being used in three to five years."