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The numerous recent advances in photovoltaic solar panels are arguably the best thing that has happened for sustainability in years. More and more energy is consumed every day and to offset the limited fossil fuel resources we have, we must make better use of renewables. Many houses are now equipped with solar panels but not everyone has them for a couple reasons. First, they can be quite expensive. Secondly, it’s not possible to install solar panels on every roof due to weight or even insufficient space.
However, in case you don’t want to sacrifice your roof or spend a good chunk of money, there is a new solution. University of Alberta researchers have discovered new non-conventional materials and manufacturing processes that could disrupt the solar photovoltaic cell industry. Chemistry professor Jillian Buriak lead the team that developed zinc and phosphorous nanoparticles dissolved in spray-paint-like liquid plastics – unlike the silicon commonly used now – which when sprayed and dried was electrically responsive to light.
Being lighter and cheaper than silicon, the potential applications for these new solar cells is enormous. Thin enough to be integrated with clothing or backpacks, we may soon be able to charge our electronics on the go without bulky battery packs. Rapid manufacturing techniques similar to newspaper printing presses or automotive painting could potentially be used to create sheets and sheets of photovoltaic material quickly and cheaply.
Buriak and her team are now working to patent the film and nanoparticle creation process while also experimenting to make it more efficient at converting light to electricity as well as to scale it up to a mass manufacturing level. Soon we may be able coat all of our roofs with the spray-on solar cells to offset our energy grid consumption.
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