The Paint That Can Turn Any Surface into a Solar Cell

The Paint That Can Turn Any Surface into a Solar Cell


Solar is carbon-neutral energy and it’s one
of the few ways of generating electricity that doesn’t lead to carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere. Now this is a problem that not only affects all of the humans on the planet,
it affects every living organism because more carbon dioxide can lead to things like global
warming, it can lead to the acidification of the oceans and we don’t yet know the consequences
of those, but we’ll have to deal with them. One of the reasons why solar is not widely
adopted is it’s just too expensive. And so we’re trying to design new materials that
are low cost, light weight, materials that can replace the silicon used in solar panels.
The new hotness is carbon: make it lightweight, make it out of carbon, make it easy to mass
produce and easy to scale up just like the plastics that we use all around us. The challenge
is making a plastic that behaves like a semi-conductor. A really lightweight technology that’s integrated
right into the building materials themselves. Now these can be painted on, or they can be
stand-alone materials, but in the long-term, maybe 10-20 years out, we’d like to reduce
the weight, reduce the cost and make this technology widely adopted. Carbon’s important because it’s a hugely abundant
resource on the planet. We have lots of carbon feed stocks and we use them for all kinds
of things: for pharmaceuticals, for the plastics that are used in all kinds of commodity materials,
so it really is a very readily available source. Carbon can be manufactured in different ways.
For example you can melt carbon, you can mold it. You can’t do that with silicon. You need
to etch it, use things like hydrogen fluoride, very caustic reagents to mold it. So carbon
does offer a lot of advantage in terms of mechanical stability, it can be bendable,
it can be mouldable, and so it really is a good material. I think if you have technology
that’s less expensive than burning hydrocarbons, it would be widely adopted because everyone
needs energy.

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