For the first time in history, scientists at the MIT have coated paper with a solar cell at the newly opened Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Research Center. The coating technique is similar to that of an inkjet printer – the big difference is that the coating is this time a semiconductor, not ink.

Eni, an Italian oil company, invested $5 million into MIT’s center, atop of the $2 million received from a National Science Foundation grant.

The materials that the MIT scientists used are carbon-based dyes, but Vladimir Bulovic, the center’s director, said that any material could be used for depositing the dye, if it can be stored at room temperature. For the moment, the newly-developed cell isn’t so efficient: it only converts 1.5 to 2 percent of the incident sunlight into electricity.

Paolo Scaroni, the Italian CEO of Eni, said his company is funding solar power because they understand that fossil fuels will eventually deplete, and that he believes that solar power can be a replacement to that. But, at the same time, the technologies are not sufficient. “We are not very active (in alternative energy) today because we don’t believe today’s technologies are the answer of our problems,” he said.

The center also deals with other types of research in solar power. They also use quantum dots for discovering new materials they can use in making solar cells.

Although the technology presented herein is a few years and thousands of hours apart from commercial release, Bulovic says that if 0.3 percent of the U.S. were covered with photovoltaic panels having a modest 10 percent efficiency, solar power could produce three times the country’s needs, including a transition to an electric vehicle infrastructure.

Not impressing, but promising.

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