Solar Paint Research Is Sun Believable At College

With a conversion efficiency of about 1 percent, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have a long way to go with the “solar paint” they’ve developed. So don’t go running down to your local Sherwin-Williams to pick up a gallon just yet. Still, the idea of being able to easily – and, the researchers say, inexpensively – apply a photovoltaic layer to a surface is a new and exciting twist in the continuing quest to advance solar power technology.

“Sun-Believable” is what the Notre Dame chemists call their invention. What they’ve made is a paste consisting of quantum dots – nano-particles of semiconductors – of titanium dioxide coated in either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide and suspended in a water-alcohol mixture. Brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light, this stuff produced electricity.

solar paint, Notre Dame

image via University of Notre Dame

“The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we’ve reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells,” Prashant Kamat, who’s leading the research at Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology, said in a statement. “But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future.”

The university said that in their continuing research, Kamat and his team will also be looking for ways to boost the stability of the new material. The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 7, 2012

    Chris Ginsburg

    And why not spray a primer coat of metallic-conductive paint or conductive silicone for flexible surfaces? Even at 5% efficiency buildings with huge surface areas and sunny weather should be able to power themselves entirely in the daytime. Nighttime is another story 🙁

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