Monday, July 11, 2011

Inkjet printing could change the face of solar energy industry

Inkjet printers, a low-cost technology that in recent decades has revolutionized home and small office printing, may soon offer similar benefits for the future of solar energy.

Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way for the first time to create successful "CIGS" solar devices with inkjet printing, in work that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent and will significantly lower the cost of producing solar energy cells with some very promising compounds.

High performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low cost, thin film solar electronics should be possible, scientists said.

The findings have been published in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, a professional journal, and a patent applied for on the discovery. Further research is needed to increase the efficiency of the cell, but the work could lead to a whole new generation of solar energy technology, researchers say.

"This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field," said Chih-hung Chang, an OSU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "Until now no one had been able to create working CIGS solar devices with inkjet technology."

Part of the advantage of this approach, Chang said, is a dramatic reduction in wasted material. Instead of depositing chemical compounds on a substrate with a more expensive vapor phase deposition – wasting most of the material in the process – inkjet technology could be used to create precise patterning with very low waste.

"Some of the materials we want to work with for the most advanced solar cells, such as indium, are relatively expensive," Chang said. "If that's what you're using you can't really afford to waste it, and the inkjet approach almost eliminates the waste." (read more)