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New Developments in Solar Power Technology

by Redazione FGB [1], 20 May 2009

One of the great challenges facing the renewable energy industry is that of how to make energy production cheaper for the end user, and this problem is particularly pertinent for photovoltaic solar panels. The real problem in this case is production and raw material cost, with silicon forming a large part of overall expenses. Here in Italy experts have been working on this problem for several years and now their labours are coming to fruition, and I would like to highlight a couple of these projects.

The Center for Hybrid and Organic Solar Energy (Polo Solare Organic della Regione Lazio known as CHOSE) [2]was created in 2006. It is located in the high-tech campus of TecnoPolo Tiburtino in the "Tor Vergata" University of Rome, where many of Rome's finest high technology companies are based. It was created at the end of 2006 through the common intention of the Lazio Region and the Department of Electronics Engineering of the University of Rome Tor Vergata to build a excellence centre for the research and development of organic and hybrid technologies applied to photovoltaic energy, and they have built a national network by setting up collaborations with many of the research institutions active in the field.

Last month the centre began preparations for the industrial production of a new type of cell, known as a dye solar cell, that uses plant extract to produce electricity.

Dye solar cells (DSCs) typically consist of two conductive glass plates in which the three main active components of the cell are sandwiched: a dye that absorbs light from the sun, a titanium dioxide (TiO2) layer and an electrolyte which transports the electric charges across the cell.
The dye molecules are anchored to the TiO2 layer which is deposited in such a way to form a nano-structured porous film in order to greatly increase the area onto which the dye can attach itself. Dye molecules are photo-excited by the incoming light. TiO2 conduction levels are such that the electronic charges produced by the excitation of the dye are rapidly and efficiently transferred from the dye to the TiO2 and transported to one of the electrodes. The electrolyte, after extracting charge from the other electrode, refurnishes the dye with the electron it has just lost to the TiO2. No permanent chemical transformation occurs during this basic process. In this way, the dye solar cell manages to continually transform light from the sun into electric current and energy once a load (e.g. an electrical appliance) is applied between the two terminals

The researchers in Rome believe that the use of these organic substances will dramatically lower the installation costs of solar panels, making the use of solar energy a viable proposition for everyone. The raw materials cost much less than the silicon currently used in conventional panels, they are in plentiful supply and are easier to work with being less fragile and requiring less energy than silicon. Cells can be printed in series directly onto surfaces using standard printing techniques, they do not have to be produced individually and then connected together as is the case with traditional panels making the manufacturing process much cheaper, and the cells are flexible so the panel can also be flexible if required.

Another very interesting project is called "Photon Inside", a type of varnish that is capable of generating electricity. Developed in Bologna by the "Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nanostrutturati" (The Institute for the Study Of Nanostructures) [3] of the CNR (National Research Council), and marketed by the Austrian company Bleiner Ag. Photon Inside should be available early next year. It can be applied to any surface just like a normal paint, and the manufacturers state that a 50 square metre application will provide 3Kw of electricity. The advantages of something that can be applied in this way are obvious, any structure can become an electricity farm, sailing boats can produce their own electricity, nobody can steal it, it can be recoated when necessary, doesn't require building work or aesthetic compromise, and the manufacturers claim that it will cost half the price of a contemporary solar panel.

Konarka [4] is an American company that specializes in producing products that convert light into energy and have some interesting products, Power plastic is a lightweight self sufficient energy generating plastic, it comes on a roll in any colour you want and you can even cut it to the shape required. The photovoltaic material is made from semi-conducting polymers and nano-engineered materials and like Photon Inside described above is a five strata system. It is between two and ten mm thick and flexible so can be used on roller blinds and awnings and they claim that it is significantly cheaper than the traditional solar system.

Another Konarka product [5] is Power Fiber. Researchers are working on producing a thread like version of their technology that can be woven into fabric and made into clothes that are capable of producing energy from the sun as they are worn.

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Redazione FGB
  2. 2] http://www.chose.uniroma2.it/en/
  3. 3] http://www.ismn.cnr.it/eng/home.htm
  4. 4] http://www.konarka.com/
  5. 5] http://www.konarka.com/images/uploads/Konarka-Brochure-2008-v8.pdf
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