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Solar cells

Super-efficient, low-cost inkjet system to revolutionize solar energy technology

Thursday, June 30, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: solar cells, inkjet printing, health news

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(NaturalNews) The same technology used in your home or office printer to deliver ink to paper is now being used in a revolutionary new solar technology that eliminates 90 percent of raw material waste, and drastically cuts the costs associated with producing solar cells.

Engineers from Oregon State University (OSU) are well on their way to producing the first ever super-efficient, extremely low-cost solar film made from inkjet technology, which could make solar energy production a whole lot more efficient and cheaper for consumers.

Published in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, the findings explain how CIGS solar devices -- CIGS being short for the copper, indium, gallium and selenium elements that compose them -- drastically reduce waste, significantly improve efficiency, and summarily revolutionize the way solar cells are produced, as well as how they perform.

"This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field," said Chih-hung Chang, a professor at OSU's School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "Until now, no one had been able to create working CIGS solar devices with inkjet technology."

The technology is different from typical solar cell production in that it precisely prints the relatively inexpensive chalcopyrite compound, or CIGS, directly on film as thin as one or two microns -- and it does this without losing much energy, or wasting much of the element compound. Traditional solar technology, on the other hand, involves the use of more expensive compounds that are deposited using processes such as vapor phase deposition, which is very inefficient and ends up wasting most of the element compound.

"Some of the materials we want to work with for the most advanced solar cells, such as indium, are relatively expensive," noted Chang. "If that's what you're using, you can't really afford to waste it, and the inkjet approach almost eliminates the waste."

Besides being highly efficient and easy to produce, inkjet technology opens the door for the greatly expanded use of solar systems in building materials like roofing shingles, windows, and other surfaces exposed to regular sunlight -- the possibilities are endless.

"[A] simple, fast, and direct-write, solution-based deposition process is developed for the fabrication of high quality CIGS solar cells," write the researchers in their paper's conclusion. "Safe, cheap, and air-stable inks can be prepared easily by controlling the composition of low-cost metal salt precursors at a molecular level."

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