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13 August 2010

Spray on solar cell offers window of opportunity for green buildings

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Team at University of Leicester predict low-cost solar cell could turn buildings and aircraft into mini power stations

Everyday surfaces such as windows and roof tiles could be used to generate energy after a team of scientists this week revealed plans to commercialise a spray-on solar cell that could be used on buildings and aircraft.

Norwegian company EnSol and a team of scientists at the University of Leicester yesterday announced that they have successfully tested a new thin-film photovoltaic cell that can be painted onto flat surfaces.

The patented design uses metallic nanoparticles with diameters of approximately ten nanometres – much thinner than the width of a human hair.

The researchers said the cells are so small that they can be painted or sprayed onto a surface, although they would slightly reduce the transparency of glass creating a tinted effect.

The team has already tested the technology and now hopes to refine it to achieve a cell efficiency of at least 20 per cent before rolling it out on a commercial basis by 2016.

University of Leicester professor of nanotechnology Chris Binns explained in a video interview posted on YouTube that he expects the cell to generate 100 watts per square metre.

"It's a thin-film coated technology, so it can literally be sprayed onto things, so anything can be converted into a power generating surface," he said. "It's also transparent, so it can even be put onto windows. And in principle, it could also be more efficient than existing technologies."

Binns added that the thin and lightweight cell would be "perfect" for the Solar Impulse aeroplane, which recently completed the first 24-hour flight by a solar-powered aircraft.


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