Experts from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the University of Cambridge have created a method of spray-coating a photovoltaic active layer by an air based process – similar to spraying regular paint from a can – to develop a cheaper technique which can be mass produced.
Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield said “Spray coating is currently used to apply paint to cars and in graphic printing. We have shown that it can also be used to make solar cells using specially designed plastic semiconductors. Maybe in the future surfaces on buildings and even car roofs will routinely generate electricity with these materials.
“We found that the performance of our spray coated solar cells is the same as cells made with more traditional research methods, but which are impossible to scale in manufacturing. We now do most of our research using spray coating.
“The goal is to reduce the amount of energy and money required to make a solar cell. This means that we need solar cell materials that have low embodied energy, but we also need manufacturing processes that are efficient, reliable and consume less energy.”
Most solar cells are manufactured using special energy intensive tools and using materials like silicon that themselves contain large amounts of embodied energy.
Plastic, by comparison, requires much less energy to make. By spray-coating a plastic layer in air the team hope the overall energy used to make a solar cell can be significantly reduced.