New breakthroughs in solar technology have been announced which could mean a complete game changer in the way electricity is generated.
The technology involves printing a new type of solar photovoltaic (PV) cell onto building materials, such as steel and glass, and allowing them to generate electricity.
The chief announcement is the result of joint ventures between Australian company Dyesol and, in Wales, Tata Steel, and in America Pilkington Glass.
Researchers are being cautious as to the timescale, but it is estimated that in about five years time industrial production on a large scale could begin.
Speaking at a recent conference on solar power, James Durrant of the Department of Chemistry and Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London, said: “If just 10% of Tata’s annual steel output were coated with DSSC, this would represent the output capacity equivalent to a 1GW nuclear power station per year”.
Dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC)
These ‘dye-sensitised solar cells’ (DSSC) employ a photoelectrochemical system similar to that employed by plants to capture solar energy.
In the manufacturing process, a nanocrystalline titanium oxide film plus a sensitiser dye are printed onto glass, polymer or steel and covered with glass or plastic.
Modules made from the cells currently have efficiencies up to 8% depending upon a compromise between stability and cost, but cells in the lab have reached 13% efficiency, and Dyesol is confident they can reach 10% under mass-production conditions in five years time.
DSSC has the following advantages over conventional silicon photovoltaic modules:
- it can output a constant operating voltage in all light conditions, including low light and dappled conditions typical of urban and city environments, making it an ideal renewable resource for closely packed buildings
- it has an optimum working temperature of 40o-50oC, unlike silicon PV, which becomes less efficient at higher temperatures
- it uses little energy in manufacture due to the low temperature processes and absence of high vacuum technology needed for second generation technologies (thin film PV)
- due to the nanoparticulate nature of the titanium dioxide, modules can generate electricity from light from any direction, removing the need for them to be pointed directly at the sun
- it can be produced in a range of natural colours and light transmission effects including transparent, translucent or opaque
- it uses no polluting dopant
- the ability to produce a constant operating voltage in all light conditions
- it is ideal for integrating into building cladding.
The race to mass production
Many companies are racing to produce this type of cell at an industrial scale.
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