Researchers at the University of Kansas (US) are developing photoactive nanomaterial ink solution as a key component of solar devices manufactured in a low-cost roll-to-roll printing process. Currently, the disproportionately high production cost still poses a development barrier for printable, flexible solar cells.
Current research and development of solar ink explores a variety of printing techniques that would allow for fast, adequately priced production of photovoltaic thin-film panels. The challenge, however, remains to develop printed solar devices with better power conversion efficiency. “Our research work will extend the understanding of solar nanomaterial ink from the atomic scale for the improvement of photoabsorption, charge separation and charge transport,” says Shenqiang Ren, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas and leader of the Ren research group.
Ren says his program’s goal is to develop scalable, environmentally stable and eco-friendly solar ink that could enable room temperature and large-area printing onto nearly any substrates at ambient conditions, which could lower the manufacturing cost.
Interestingly, one key application Ren has in mind for the solar ink is greenhouses. “[The solar ink] is semitransparent and broad-absorbing for UV-Vis-NIR wavelength light, which is good for the growth of fruits and vegetables, etc.” the expert says. (UV-Vis-NIR stands for ultra-violet, visible, near-infrared.)
The potential impact of successful solar inks on the future of solar energy is significant. “If the cost for the solar cells gets reduced without compromising the efficiency, the widespread adoption will begin, suitable for large-scale energy generation,” Ren says.
As a researcher, Ren is most enthusiastic about the progress his team has made in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of solar inks. “It is exciting to see a fine-tuning of the structure or atomic doping of the solar ink, which is what creates the impact on the power conversion efficiency.”
Going forward in their research work on solar ink, Ren and his colleagues are poised “to implement the knowledge learned from the laboratory settings into the real roll-to-roll printing process.”
Written by Sandra Henderson, Research Editor Solar Novus Today