Uct Scientists Invent Disposable Solar Panel

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tamar Kahn

SCIENTISTS at the University of Cape Town are exploiting the nano-scale properties of silicon to develop a super-thin disposable solar panel poster which they hope could offer rural dwellers a cheap, alternative source of power.

Many people living in remote areas are not linked to the national electricity grid, and use batteries or run their own generators to supply their power needs.

The scientists have developed technology for printing specialised inks containing tiny nanoparticles of silicon and other semiconductors onto paper.

The solar panels are printed in much the same way as conventional colour images, using three or four separate print runs with black, blue, yellow and magenta ink. They print the metal contacts, then the semiconductor structure, then more contacts.

The voltage and power output of the solar cell is determined by the size of the poster. An A2-sized poster will deliver up to 100W of power, enough to charge a cellphone, power a radio or provide five hours of lighting, said Prof David Britton, a physicist specialising in nanotechnology.

“Many families cannot afford R1000 for a solar panel designed to last 30 years, but they can afford R10 every three to six months for a ’disposable’ panel,” he said.

Shops could stock rolls of solar panel posters, and cut it to meet a customer’s needs. The poster could be mounted behind a window or attached to a cabinet.

Britton’s team has built a successful prototype and is seeking to commercialise the project.

Source: Business Day (Johannesburg) (link opens in a new window)