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Friday, March 07, 2008

Solar power? Print it

This year could bring the Silicon Valley-funded renaissance in solar power we've all been waiting for. First, San Jose-based Nanosolar began delivering its affordable thin-film solar coating, followed by a construction boom in American solar thermal power plants—essentially the reflective equivalent of geothermal power. Now, for the first time, the solar cell revolution is arriving by droplet.

Konarka Technologies, the Massachusetts-based company we first recognized with a 2005 Breakthrough Award for its affordable Power Plastic solar film, said this week that it has successfully manufactured those thin solar cells using an inkjet printer. In addition to decreasing production costs because it relies on existing inkjet technology, the printable Power Plastic cells can be applied to a range of small-scale, highly variable power opportunities, from indoor sensors to small RFID installations.

With printers now capable of producing solar cells, other companies might be able to use plastics and other colors in developing new kinds of power-packing film. But the inkjet process is just one of several different manufacturing techniques Konarka has been busy demonstrating for its solar collectors over the last three years. "Compared to current PV technologies, the Power Plastic has an advantage in flexibility, greater sensitivity to low light and versatility," Konarka president and CEO Rick Hess says of the film cells, which are fused from liquid containing semiconducting polymers.

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