Today, solar panels can be fragile, unwieldy to install and expensive; in a decade’s time we could be wallpapering the outside of our houses with them. Researchers at MIT have created an inkjet-style printing technology that can lay carbon-based organic semiconductor solar cells down onto a paper substrate, one of the headline breakthroughs that coincides with the opening of their new multi-million dollar Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Research Center. According to center director Vladimir Bulovic, it paves the way for a time where people “could use a staple gun to install a solar panel.”
At present, the technology trades efficiency for ease of application. The conversion rate – the efficiency of turning sunlight into electricity – is only between 1.5 and 2-percent; however, the relatively straightforward manufacturing process would mean a greater surface area could be covered at low cost, making up for the low efficiency.
The carbon-based organic semiconductor material can be applied to pretty much any substrate that is stable at room temperature. However, it’s still some way from commercial viability; according to Bulovic, the technologies the center is developing are only in the first few years of a development cycle that could last anywhere between 5 and 10 years.