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Power Technology

MIT Unveils First Solar Cells Printed On Paper 125

Posted by timothy
from the let's-give-them-some-post-unveiing-privacy dept.
lucidkoan writes "MIT researchers recently unveiled the world's first thin-film solar cell printed on a sheet of paper. The panel was created using a process similar to that of an inkjet printer, producing semiconductor-coated paper imbued with carbon-based dyes that give the cells an efficiency of 1.5 to 2 percent. That's not incredibly efficient, but the convenience factor makes up for it. And in the future, researchers hope that the same process used in the paper solar cells could be used to print cells on metal foil or even plastic. If they're able to gear efficiencies up to scale, the development could revolutionize the production and installation of solar panels."
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MIT Unveils First Solar Cells Printed On Paper

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  • Lots of "ifs" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:24PM (#32102316) Journal

    It would be great if this turns into a workable process but it seems like someone publishes a similar article like every week and only rarely does it amount to anything.

    • by alvinrod (889928)
      I can understand the project team wanting to release some information to the press to garner support and perhaps additional funding, but much like the Edison quote, they may have only found a way that doesn't work, or at least not very well. They might devise several hundred other methods or processes for printing solar cells on paper before they manage to figure out how to produce efficient cells in a cost-effective manner. Having some initial success and publishing it in order to secure additional funding
    • Re:Lots of "ifs" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by anza (900224) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:49PM (#32102666)
      99% of science isn't big jumps and revolutionary new ideas. It's incremental gains and slow but (usually) steady progress. Proof of concept of printing solar cells on paper is a pretty substantial deal, even if it isn't usable in the market yet.
      • Re:Lots of "ifs" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:59PM (#32104430)
        And that is manifest by the fact that solar power has dropped in price by about 1/3 [lbl.gov] (page 10) (pdf warning) in the decade from 1998 to 2008. So the idea that solar is "always coming and never arrives" is not true. It's getting more affordable all the time and the installed base is growing very rapidly (page 8).

        Now if we can just eliminate the other 2/3 of the price solar energy will be free :)

        During that same period, oil prices (also in inflation-adjusted dollars) went up by 500% [seekingalpha.com]. (Doubtless they have retreated during the recession; it's hilarious how quickly we all stop worrying about it as soon as prices fall at the pump. In a year gas will be sky-high again).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nospam007 (722110) *

        "Proof of concept of printing solar cells on paper is a pretty substantial deal,..."

        I wonder if the ink is cheaper than the HP one.

    • Grow the trees to make the paper that you'd use for these cells then... Don't.

      Just burn them.

      Solar powered electricity.

      Look up coppicing.

       

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        Grow the trees to make the paper that you'd use for these cells then... Don't.

        Look up coppicing.

        Or, do both. You can only burn wood to create energy once, but if that wood is the substrate for a solar panel you've vastly increased the solar energy we can harvest over burning. The tree is one time producer (with a long lead time), but even inefficient solar can catch up over time.

        Coppicing regrows harvestable trees in about 7 years, but one tree's worth of a 1% efficient solar panel (in the right sunlight) can produce more energy over those 7 years that simply burning the wood. Of course, the panel

      • by timeOday (582209)
        I don't think that idea is crazy, except there are other forms of biofuel that accomplish the same thing while releasing waste carbon (e.g. cell bodies) into a pool or the ground, rather than the air. So don't buy too much stock in wood-burning engines [internationalsteam.co.uk] just yet :)
    • Yeah, it'd be nice to get a slashdot article about groundbreaking new solar tech being sold rather then articles selling groundbreaking new solar tech.

      Still though, congrats to solar cell researchers.
    • by el chief (1768752)
      IF you can print e-paper on the other side, then you have a disposable Kindle!
      • by lxs (131946)

        A disposable reading device made out of paper? Whatever will they think of next?

    • by Phoghat (1288088)
      This same MIT team is the one who keeps publishing. I first read about it about 18 months ago
  • Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hal_Porter (817932) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:25PM (#32102336)

    Time is running out for the House of Saud.

    Once solar becomes ubiquitous they'll need to swap their imported cars for camels. And we won't have to worry about spoiled idiots funding Jihad as a hobby.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by oodaloop (1229816)
      Hey kids, math and facts can be fun! Try them! Saudi Arabia has about 260 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves (which means they likely have more they haven't found yet). They produce about 10 million barrels of oil per day. That means their oil lifespan is about 70 years, just on what we know they have right now. And let's no forget that as they've increased production over the years, the lifespan keep getting longer, not shorter, due to increased amounts of oil being found. So...how is time run
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        Then they must be embargoed until they accept that "DNA is God and Dawkins is her prophet".

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I think you mean TNA.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Hylandr (813770)
        Well if the world starts running on Solar energy, who is going to fuel demand for Saudi oil? ( Pardon the pun. )

        However, the Sauds may choose to BUY that tech, bury it somewhere and go on about their business.

        - Dan .
        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by oodaloop (1229816)
          That's a big if. Oil is cheap and plentiful, and not likely to be replaced in third world countries or in good ol' fashioned American pickup trucks for that matter. I don't see time "running out" any time soon for oil producing countries any time soon.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Well if the world starts running on Solar energy, who is going to fuel demand for Saudi oil? ( Pardon the pun. ).

          The plastics industry, perhaps?

        • by drsquare (530038)

          Call me when you can run a 747 off a solar panel, or make plastic from the sun.

      • Re:Good (Score:4, Informative)

        by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:12PM (#32102958) Homepage

        oodaloop wrote:

        Saudi Arabia has about 260 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves (which means they likely have more they haven't found yet). They produce about 10 million barrels of oil per day. That means their oil lifespan is about 70 years, just on what we know they have right now.

        Ever heard of this rather obscure mathematical property known as exponential growth [youtube.com]?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • no it isn't

          yes it is

          no it isn't.

          No no No No NO NO NO! (to Bohemian Rhapsody in the background)

          I like irony.

           

        • by Threni (635302)

          Also, if other sources of energy get cheap enough, they're going to have to drop the price of oil a bit. Plus it's dirty, so we'll be taxing it more than solar/wind/wave (even nuclear). And it's going to cost more to extract/process the less there is.

        • Ever heard of the rather obscure physical situation known as confined space?
          Resources are not unlimited. Hence the growth curve will flatten out with the limit being the maximum that earth can sustain. (Excess life will die because of a lack of resources. Excess resources will be used up by growing life.)

          Yes, this is also true for information and innovation, and hence the “singularity” will never happen.

        • Absolutely, and not only that:-
          * WESTERN oil geologist were in Saudi Arabia surveying oil for decades prior to being kicked out
          * Saudi Arabia's 'discoveries' seem to always correlate exactly to their annual production
          * Resulting in SA having the same reserves they had decades ago, which is highly unlikely given how much they produce daily
          * AND there's the OPEC production rules limiting daily production as a ratio of how much reserves you have. So in the 1980's, when this rule came in, most OPEC countrie
      • Hey kids, math and facts can be fun! Try them!

        You might want to try them yourself. Y'know, understand what the numbers mean. That's pretty much all.

        "Reserve" numbers are largely irrelevant and the word "proven" should never be used in connection with Saudi.

        How fast can you pump it, and how much energy does it take?

         

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by oodaloop (1229816)
          Yeah, it's been well-documented that BP and other oil companies in Saudi Arabia in particular have been under-reporting oil reserves for 40 years or more to keep oil prices down. They likely have WAY more oil than that. Thanks for bringing that up. That's a good point.
          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            under-reporting oil reserves for 40 years or more to keep oil prices down.

            Someone's looking at their supply-demand curve sideways :)

          • by hamburger lady (218108) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:38PM (#32103304)

            actually it's been reported that SA has been highballing the estimates for decades. which makes sense, as OPEC quotas are based on stated reserves - the more you claim to have in reserves the more you can pump and sell and the more money you make.

            it's in every OPEC country's best interest to overstate their reserves. and of course, nobody outside of aramco is allowed to actually independently verify those numbers.

            • ... The more you claim to have in reserves the more you can pump and sell and the more money you make.

              it's in every OPEC country's best interest to overstate their reserves. and of course, nobody outside of aramco is allowed to actually independently verify those numbers.

              Only in their SHORT term interest. Presuming the resource will get sucked into actual shortage before technology replaces it the price will eventually skyrocket. At that point having a bunch left could bring in enough to pay for the lost

              • Only in their SHORT term interest

                is there any other?

                besides, if oil prices skyrocket after a resource shortage, i wouldn't want to be the guy coming out and saying 'hey guys, i have tons of the stuff left!'. that's an invitation to get your ass invaded.

                best to sell it while the sellin's good, take the money and run.

          • lol.

            So how does under reporting reserves keep the price down?

            Is that the '"This is all we got guv" nudge nudge wink wink' school of economics?

             

            • by oodaloop (1229816)
              Wow, never heard of supply and demand before. I guess by underreporting supply, demand would remain high for perceived supply. It would probably affect sales of futures as well.
      • by Daetrin (576516)
        Hey kids, economics and facts can be fun! Try them! The price of something is heavily dependent on supply and demand. If the demand for oil goes down, say because solar power is ubiquitous as the grandparent poster theorized, but the supply remains the same, then the price will go down. If solar becomes cheap enough (definitely a big "if") then the price of pumping and shipping oil over from Saudi Arabia will be higher than just producing the energy locally. 260 billion barrels of oil at nothing per barrel
        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          Because producing energy locally still costs something, and oil is cheap, easy, and works with existing infrastructure. When the world's hundreds of millions of gas-powered cars, diesel trains, and aircraft are all retro-fitted with solar panels or dumped in the sea and new ones made, then maybe, maybe the demand for oil would approach zero. So when the year of the Linux desktop arrives basically.
      • Why is it that no one ever thinks about the materials that will be needed to switch to solar? Solar panels don't work so well at night and require some sort of batteries. Currently lithium batteries appear to be the wave of the future. Do you think that the lithium for the batteries can be grown on trees? Right now the demand for lithium is fairly low compared to what it will be if the world goes solar. Since Bolivia currently has half of the worlds lithium, who do you think will become the next Saudi in th

        • by Carnildo (712617)

          Why is it that no one ever thinks about the materials that will be needed to switch to solar? Solar panels don't work so well at night and require some sort of batteries. Currently lithium batteries appear to be the wave of the future. Do you think that the lithium for the batteries can be grown on trees? Right now the demand for lithium is fairly low compared to what it will be if the world goes solar. Since Bolivia currently has half of the worlds lithium, who do you think will become the next Saudi in th

      • Time is running out because either peak supply or peak demand means terrible things for the market. And by several metrics, peak supply, at least, is not that far away.
        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          Uh, yeah. That's what the peak supply people have been saying since the 1930s when the world supply of oil was estimated in the tens of millions of barrels. The U.S. uses over 20 million barrels of oil per day. We've been discovering oil faster than we've been using it, and for the last 80 years we've been warned that peak oil is right around the corner. I'll believe it when I see it.
          • The rate of discovery is one of the metrics I was talking about - leaving aside dubious inflation by providers and monstrously large outliers in recent discoveries, the trend is that we're not even close to keeping up anymore, and it's only getting worse.
            • by oodaloop (1229816)
              We've had a long glut period recently, and money is rarely invested in discovery during gluts. As the price of oil rises, more money will be invested in discovery. The long history of rising oil reserves show us we really don't know how much oil is down there.
              • You don't have to believe me. Wikipedia delivers the relevant quote:

                It is pretty clear that there is not much chance of finding any significant quantity of new cheap oil. Any new or unconventional oil is going to be expensive. — Lord Ron Oxburgh, a former chairman of Shell, October 2008

                When the guy from Shell is saying it's over, it's probably over and done with.

      • by Vellmont (569020)

        International politics, game theory, and good old fashion lying is fun too. Those numbers of "260 billion barrels" are the numbers reported by Saudi Arabia, without any independent auditing. From wikipedia:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves [wikipedia.org]

        The case of Saudi Arabia is also striking, with proven reserves estimated at between 260 and 264 billion barrels (4.20×1010 m3) in the past 18 years, a variation of less than 2%[18] while extracting approximately 60 billion barrels (9.5×109 m3) during

      • by prefec2 (875483)

        I fully agree with you. But there is one problem with switching to renewable energies. Our present way of energy consumption (e.g. driving in cars around in densely populated cities and towns) is based on wasting a lot of energy. Or in other words is inefficient. As we are not able to do a 100% replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources in the next two decades, we have to chance our way of living. Of course we can not do so and resettle New York and L.A. instead.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Z34107 (925136)

      You just described the plot of Gundam 00.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189)

      Oil is valuable for fertilizer, medicine, plastics, and many other purposes.

      Have 260 billion gallons of it is valuable regardless of where it ends up.

      Many alternative fuels seem to make sense at $90/bbl so they don't make sense right now- and they hold the price of oil down...

      Which makes oil use continue.

      • Lots of things that oil is used for today could be done by other methods only marginally more expensive (power, car fuel). However, lots of things that oil does can't be easily replaced, such as aromatic hydrocarbon feedstocks, or most plastics precursors. Now I know oil won't stop, it'll just make a lot of things a lot more expensive that have absolutely nothing to do with what the public thinks of as oil-derived.

        To me, using oil for cars is like heating your home by burning toilet paper. When you've run o

  • You mean like this? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:25PM (#32102346)
  • Too bad (Score:4, Funny)

    by sophomoric (1715780) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:36PM (#32102476)
    Too bad most of the paper I use is down where the sun don't shine.
    • But these days you can install a burner there instead. Just insulate it properly from your posterior so you won't get too heated.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Too bad most of the paper I use is down where the sun don't shine.

      You still use paper? How primitive.

      I use three sea shells.

    • by jewelises (739285)

      Too bad most of the paper I use is down where the sun don't shine.

      I hope you are referring to your mother's basement.

  • by ArcRiley (737114) <arcriley@ubuntu.com> on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:43PM (#32102574)

    This is not the first. A company in New Hampshire has been printing, with a 4-ink inkjet process, solar cells for years now. A quick patent search shows dozens of other groups with their own solar-from-inkjet techniques.

    Sounds like the MIT guys failed to do their research.

  • ... as long as it never rains.

  • The real problem with less efficient electricity generation is that is it is much more expensive to scale even if you have the space. The lower voltages and greater resistance distances add up to much less total energy generation. 1.5% at the panel might only be .05% at the consumption point.
    • No problem, I just patented the superconducting looseleaf binder.

    • Uhm, what about some tiny DC/DC converters right inside the panels?
      • Because in order to obey the conservation of energy laws, energy in >= energy out of that DC/DC converter.

        Total (Vin * Iin) = Total ( Vout * Iout) If you increase the output voltage, the output current drops proportionally. Furthermore, to increase output voltage while keeping the output current similar, you need more input current.

        Since photovoltaic are already low current, there is not much head room to increase output voltage.
        • by Bakkster (1529253)

          Because in order to obey the conservation of energy laws, energy in >= energy out of that DC/DC converter.

          But a decent DC/DC converter is 85-95% efficient. If the alternatives are to lose 50% of the power in resistance or 15% in resistance and converter, the choice is obvious.

          Total (Vin * Iin) = Total ( Vout * Iout) If you increase the output voltage, the output current drops proportionally. Furthermore, to increase output voltage while keeping the output current similar, you need more input current. Since photovoltaic are already low current, there is not much head room to increase output voltage.

          Not sure what you're talking about. We only care about the power on the output, rather than the current itself. The whole point is to reduce the current, since that is how we minimize resistive losses (power lost in the wire = I^2 * R_wire). Considering the output will do another DC/DC or DC/AC conversion, the current is negligible as

  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @02:46PM (#32102618)

    A common problem with many alternative solar cell technologies have been that they have not been durable or degraded on UV exposure.

    Being able to produce cheaper solar cells will not gain you much in $/kWh terms if the cells degrade correspondingly quicker than silicon based ones.

    Basically with photo-voltaics there seems to be: { Cheap, Efficient , Durable } , Pick 2.

    I would not consider myself a nay-sayer. Indeed I think solar is a great energy source where sun is plentiful, but at the moment I just don't think photo-voltaics can even hold a candle to thermal designs. Like modern solar troughs.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I would not consider myself a nay-sayer. Indeed I think solar is a great energy source where sun is plentiful, but at the moment I just don't think photo-voltaics can even hold a candle to thermal designs. Like modern solar troughs.

      In Suburbia, PV is going to win out over solar concentrators because of homeowners' associations.

      For those people, there's a point where cheap + efficient will be a money saver.
      The only question is how soon can we achieve the "cheap" part of the equation without government subsidies.

      • by kimvette (919543)

        That's why you do not join the association when you buy property, and you give the association members the finger as you put up your flagpole, your HDTV antenna or satellite dish, paint your house a different shade of yellow than the association-approved shade, and put up solar collectors and also put in a woodburning stove. :)

  • efficiency of 1.5 to 2 percent. That's not incredibly efficient, but the convenience factor makes up for it.

    Not incredibly efficient? I believe that is the understatement of the week. And how in the world does "the convenience factor" make up for it?

    • the fact that there's a lot of glass and metal required in making standard panels they take a bit of time to make and are a bit bulky to store and transport.

      Up against being able to print a couple of square yards of solar panels in under an hour or so.

  • by s0litaire (1205168) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:10PM (#32102926)

    ..Don't let "Hallmark" get access to this or we'll be stuck with those annoying greetings cards that play stupid messages forever & they will never stop!!!

  • by kimvette (919543) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:14PM (#32102982) Homepage Journal

    How can this compete on price? Haven't they priced out inkjet cartridges lately? WTF!! ;)

  • Being able to print solar cells, along with the possibility of being able to print OLEDs could open up a world of opportunities... specifically for advertisements. and magazines...
    • Except if it gets wet. I imagine due to effects from humidity these cells wouldn't last long enough to do much of anything.
  • I printed some solar panels on paper many years ago. Of course, it was just an article from the web, and they were just pictures of solar panels, and they never produced any power, nor were they intended to, but they were solar panels printed on paper!

  • I remember reading about cheap solar cells being printed on plastic a short while ago, and their efficiency was better than this. Why would we want to use paper instead?

    -jcr

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... will be available in 5 years!

  • Even at 1-2%, if this could be printed onto shingles for nearly no cost, perhaps the energy it could provide may help heat/cool our homes rather than having to let all that energy go to waste.

  • The panel was created using a process similar to that of an inkjet printer, producing semiconductor-coated paper imbued with carbon-based dyes that give the cells an efficiency of 1.5 to 2 percent.

    The main difference between this and inkjet printing is that it costs about 10 times as much.... normal inkjet printing, I mean.

  • Kudos to the smart people at MIT. Using the same scaffolding substrate as nature, we can match nature's way at 2% conversion. Coupled with automatic assembly and/or extrusion; artificial trees perhaps?

The meta-Turing test counts a thing as intelligent if it seeks to devise and apply Turing tests to objects of its own creation. -- Lew Mammel, Jr.

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