It looks like the humble inkjet printer might be the next great solar-tech manufacturing platform. Several confident Oregon State University ChemEs are touting an amazing accomplishment: the world's first inkjet-printed CIGS solar device, which can reduce raw material waste by 90 percent. They've glimpsed a solar holy grail: high performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low-cost, thin-film solar electronics.
The dramatic reduction of waste material
Of course, this technology is still in the early stages of development, but part of the excitement is the hazy future. With findings recently published in Solar
"Some of the materials we want to work with, such as indium, are relatively expensive," Chang said. "If that's what you're using you can't really afford to waste." One of the most promising compounds and the focus of the current study is called chalcopyrite, or "CIGS." CIGS has extraordinary solar efficiency--a layer of chalcopyrite one or two microns thick has the ability to capture the energy from photons about as efficiently as a 50-micron-thick layer made with silicon.
Potential for new industries
In new findings, researchers report that they were able to create an ink that could print chalcopyrite onto substrates with a power conversion efficiency of about 5 percent. The OSU researchers say that they should be able to achieve an efficiency of about 12 percent, which would make a commercially viable solar cell.
If costs can be reduced enough and other hurdles breached, it might even be possible to create solar cells that could be built directly into roofing materials, opening a huge new potential for solar energy, new jobs, and industries.
Just for context, here is a short video interview of Caltech Professor Harry Atwater who is pursuing the same goal, talking about his startup, Alta Devices.