An easier-to-build solar cell

Solar cells are not easy to build, but a new technology from Notre Dame could, someday, change that. It involves a nanoparticle paste made from t-butanol, water, cadmium sulfide and titanium dioxide. Here, you watch the process of constructing a solar cell this way and see why it could be easier and cheaper than current options. The downside: These solar cells won't be coming to a neighborhood near you anytime soon. They're in the early stages of research and are still only 1% efficient at converting solar energy to electricity. (Standard solar cells tend to be closer to 25% efficient.)

Video Link


  1. Pie in the sky reporting!   i.e.  “..Could, someday; …could be easier; …won’t be coming to a neighborhood near you anytime soon; …early stages…” etc. etc.

  2. As an active member of the solar industry, news like this is always exciting, and a bit depressing, because while everything we have now is due to innovations in the past, nearly all current innovations will die off. The cruel world of logistics and economics is why fewer innovations survive than do baby sea turtles, tottering down the beach like awkward little snack-cakes.

    I’m all for the technology of the future, but you don’t need to wait – 15-17% polycrystalline silicon modules cost 1/5th what they did 5 years ago, and are getting slammed up on roofs around you, ready to generate power happily and reliably for 30 years.

    1. They’re thinking of solving the resource problem by tackling the population problem! Are there any worse things to have in your environment than cadmium? Thallium or Plutonium maybe.

  3. I wouldn’t underestimate low efficiency.  If someone came up with a 2 or 3 part system that could be applied like paint to building surfaces even at an efficiency of less than 5% it might be worth it (assuming the price isn’t astronomically high).  We certainly have plenty of building facades and flat places to put super cheap and easy solar cells.

  4. Standard solar cells are closer to 12%  efficiency – a bit lower for thin film, a bit higher for polycrystalline. 25% is what you get where money doesn’t matter – satellites for example.

    1%, while better than nothing, isn’t much either. A typical (thin-film, 10%) photovoltaic power plant in central Europe gets about 4W per square meter of area occupied. (That’s 40W peak, but 4W on average.) Sunnier climates in southern latitudes will get about twice as much.

    A tightly packed Houston-sized solar farm made with 1% efficient cells would provide 1.3GW of power on average. That’s not nearly enough to provide the 2.5mio people living in Houston with their electricity needs (which are about 4 times that), not to mention their energy needs (over 10 times as much).

    And I chose Houston as a particularly favourable example, being both sparsely populated and in a sunny climate. A Berlin-sized farm next to Berlin (half the size, in worse weather and further north) would provide a mere 400MW for 3.5 mio people. A Tokyo-sized farm next to Tokyo (even smaller, but further south) would also provide just under 400MW for the 8.7 mio people living there.

     Just to give you an idea …

  5. When talking solar installations, people usually talk about the “installed” costs, not just the cost of the cells themselves. Less efficient cells will require greater numbers to generate a given amount of power, so the costs of the associated fixturing -particuarly if placed on a roof that is only so big and can withstand only so much extra weight- will whittle away at any cost advantages of inefficient cells.

  6. They’re in the early stages of research and are still only 1% efficient at converting solar energy to electricity.

    Bah! Just throw some graphene into it. That’ll fix things right up.

    Graphene makes everything better.

  7. Normally I hate to quibble over minutia – wait, that’s not right; I love to quibble over minutia, but I usually refrain because it gets pretty obnoxious – but oh my god they need to buy a decent microphone.  The hard consonants sound like small arms fire.

  8. So basically this article is exactly the same as every single article I’ve read in the last 15 years on photovoltaic breakthroughs, including 20 or so on this site.  They all go:

    “[University/startup/surprising old craggy megacorp] has created a breakthrough in solar cells that could dramatically [improve efficiency/reduce cost] of solar cells.  They use [some manufacturing process] to do this.  However, it is currently impractical because [massive drawback (like in power efficiency)/incredibly expensive/impossible to mass-produce], so we won’t be seeing this on the market in the near future.  But scientists are working on solving those problems.”

    …You will never hear about this ever again.

    I say there should be a blackout of articles about solar panel “breakthroughs” unless it includes a sentence like “mass production begins next week, and should be available to consumers starting next month”.

Comments are closed.