Nanocrystal ‘Solar Paint’ Could Replace Panels and be Applied to Any Surface

February 21, 2013

If the thought of installing an array of solar panels on your roof in order to harvest solar energy doesn’t appeal to you, fret not; you could soon be applying “solar paint” to all the exterior surfaces of your home instead.

By adapting existing technology already in use to generate electricity, scientists at USC and Notre Dame are working with tiny nanocrystals – so small that 250,000,000 of them can fit on the head of a pin – that can exist in a liquid form as ink. According to an article at the Daily Mail, this ink can then either be painted or printed directly on non-porous surfaces, potentially turning any exterior wall or window into an invisible solar panel.

While the concept of solar paint isn’t new, assistant professor of chemistry at USC Richard L. Brutchey and his team at USC worked with the nanocrystals in such a way that it allows for the liquid to be painted or printed on surfaces without heating up and melting, previously a major concern of a product designed to be exposed to the sun all day long. And at Notre Dame, researchers are working with a paste of electricity-conducting “quantum dots” which would be combined with a dye to create a paint to use on hard surfaces. Initial tests showed low rates of efficiency for the paint, but electricity was indeed being generated when it was exposed to sunlight. Lead researcher Prashant Kamat has a goal of not only making it more efficient but also more stable, saying that “in our laboratories we have tested the performance for a few days to a week, and we find it stable as long as it is stored in the dark.”

Of course, therein lies the rub; solar paint would, of course, need to be stable when exposed to sunlight and not just when stored in the dark. After all, it needs to be in the sun all day in order to generate electricity. So while the technology is obviously many years away from showing up on store shelves, liquid solar paint could be much cheaper to make than the solar panels currently in use today. But even more than the lower cost, the idea that one could have invisible solar panels painted on their home, instead of big panels on the roof, could be just the thing to change the minds of homeowners reluctant to go solar.

Paint Sky image from BigStock.

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