Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cheap Solar Using Nail Polish and a Pizza Oven

This charming juxtaposition of High Tech Solar and Low Tech MacGyver is headline ready for the tabloids. An Australian PhD student, Nicole Kuepper, has received a prestigious award for creating a low cost process to create cheap solar panels using nail polish, an ink jet printer, and a pizza oven.

Before you run out and buy stock in Cover Girl, MaxFactor, and Revlon, consider that while they have created a test process, they have yet to fabricate real solar cells and test them for efficiency. Currently, it takes up to four years for a solar cell to produce enough energy to "pay" for the energy used to produce it. A lower heat process like this has the potential to bring that ratio down.

Most of the news covers just the award, you have to dig on down to find out how this process works. Here is an excerpt from the University of Technology Sydney student publication Precinct quoting Ms. Kuepper

“In a nutshell, we spray on nail polish, bake the cell, ink jet print something like nail polish remover in certain areas to create a pattern. We then dunk the cell in acid which eats through the nail polish where the ink has fallen, and hey presto you have a patterned solar cell without needing to use lasers or expensive and complex photo-lithographic equipment,”

For a more detailed explanation, head over to the World Intellectual Property Organization and read the patent application.

Hat tip to Gizmodo for the original link and to Chimp for the WIPO link