Inkjet Printed Solar Cells using Cyanobacteria

Inkjet printed solar cells could become a reality after researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Central Saint Martins used an inkjet printer to create tiny bio solar panels using cyanobacteria.

Inkjet Printed Solar Cells

As solar panel technology gets better and better, scientists have figured out a way to create a living ink which they then print on paper and use as bio-solar panels. Cyanobacteria, tiny creatures which use photosynthesis to turn solar light into energy (nature’s solar panels!) managed to survive a process where they’re printed onto electrically conductive carbon nanotubes, according to Futurism.com

Inkjet Printed Solar Cells
Inkjet Printed Solar Cells using Cyanobacteria (source: imperial.ac.uk)

Dr Marin Sawa from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Imperial College of London noted that although the inkjet printed solar cells may not be able to generate enough power to run an air conditioner, for example, there are myriad ways their low power production could improve quality of life:

“Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment” Dr. Sawa told the Imperial College website

This new type of renewable energy technology is called microbial biophotoltaics (BPV) and is being worked on by scientists across the globe.

Other things able to be powered by a panel approximately the size of an iPad could power a small LED light bulb or a digital clock. The low power output means they’re suitable for things that require small amounts of energy, such as biosensors or environmental sensors. Dr Andrea Fantuzzi noted that the BPV solution is very cost effective and could have some great implementations for healthcare:

“Paper-based BPVs integrated with printed electronics and biosensor technology could usher in an age of disposable paper-based sensors that monitor health indicators such as blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. Once a measurement is taken, the device could be easily disposed of with low environmental impact”

One of the best things about this is that these panels are completely biodegradable – which solves a long running problem of what to do with solar panels / storage after they’re past their ‘use-by date’. Very exciting tech (similar in a way to smart solar windows research) to ring in the new year which we’ll be sure to follow closely! 

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Smart Solar Windows – New Technology Advancements

New findings from a team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory mean we are one step closer to smart solar windows. This will help future buildings generate their own energy and move cities one step closer to being self-sustainable.

Smart Solar Windows – Solar Cells in Windows

Jacqui Cole, a materials scientist originally from the University of Cambridge and currently based at the Argonne National Laboratory, works with colleagues to determine the molecular structure of working solar cell electrodes. They placed them within a fully assembled device that works just like a window – these dye-sensitized solar cells are transparent and work well in conjunction with glass due to their flexibility and thin, see-through electronic circuits. 

Jacqui Cole - Working on Technology for Smart Solar Windows
Jacqui Cole – Working on Technology for Smart Solar Windows (source: anl.gov)

Although there have been improvements in transparent solar technology and smart windows, this is a significant technology increase as previously the interactions and unknown molecular mechanisms between the electrodes and electrolyte weren’t understood very well (i.e. how the dye interacts with the semiconductor). 

“Most previous studies have modeled the molecular function of these working electrodes without considering the electrolyte ingredients,” Cole was quoted on the ANL website. “Our work shows that these chemical ingredients can clearly influence the performance of solar cells, so we can now use this knowledge to tune the ions to increase photovoltaic efficiency.”

Research in Nanoscale earlier this year (which also came from Argonne National Laboratory) showed that certain chemical ingredients can influence the photovoltaic performance of solar cells – and a ‘modest boost’ in performance would be enough to make the cells competitive, according to Cole. She noted that manufacturing dye-sensitized solar cells is ‘very cheap’ in comparison to other solar cell tech. 

Although the organic dyes (such as the one used in this study, called MK-2) are still in lab trial stages, metal organic dyes are starting to become commercialised. For example, a building in Graz, Austria (the Science Tower) uses windows that generate renewable energy at the top sections of its tower. 

We’ll keep you updated with any news on solar windows and their real-world application. Some huge steps forward being made in this area recently! 

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Smart Windows created at Princeton University

Researchers at Princeton University have created a prototype for ‘smart windows’ which, using a controllable glazing, can augment cooling, heating, and lighting systems through tint variation.

About the Smart Windows

The new type of solar cell in the windows is able to use near-UV light (invisible to the human eye) – perfect to use for to power the system, which is estimated to save up to 40 perfect of an average building’s energy costs. The panels are able to change the tint of windows through a special controllable gaze – subsequently managing heat, light and cooling.

As they require some power for operation (which is generated by the solar cell), retrofitting these windows is a project that still has a few challenges ahead of it – but it’s a massive step forward in solar panel technology.

Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering, is one of the authors of a paper published last month to discuss the smart window tech, developed in her laboratory. Loo was quoted as saying  “Using near-UV light to power these windows means that the solar cells can be transparent and occupy the same footprint of the window without competing for the same spectral range or imposing aesthetic and design constraints.” As for the need for a different way of looking at the solar cells, Loo stated that “Typical solar cells made of silicon are black because they absorb all visible light and some infrared heat — so those would be unsuitable for this application.”

Smart Windows Princeton Lynn Loo
Smart Windows Creater Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, with Nicholas Davy and Melda Sezen-Edmonds (image: David Kelly Crow)

Loo, along with doctoral student at Princeton Nicholas Davy have started a company called Andluca Technologies based on the new technology and are looking into other ways to utilise it. this ‘near-UV’ solar cell technology could, for example, power IOT (internet-of-things) sensors or other low power devices. “It does not generate enough power for a car, but it can provide auxiliary power for smaller devices, for example, a fan to cool the car while it’s parked in the hot sun,” Loo said.

Davy said that the research team are currently hard at work developing a flexible version of their technology – so you would be able to ‘peel and stick’ it onto existing windows, subsequently controlling them from an app. According to Davy this would “instantly (improve) energy efficiency, comfort and privacy”.

While it looks like this tech is still a ways off, it’ll be exciting to see how it progresses and is implemented into future projects.

 

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