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Spray-On Solar Power – Apply It Directly to Your… House? Car?

Solar Power Paint?
Solar Power Paint?

“Apply it directly to your…” sounds like part of some snake-oil salesman’s pitch, but it’s finally here, at least in the lab, a spray-on solar power producing paint.

Solar power, of course, is one of the most diffuse renewable energies, requiring high tech ways to concentrate it into usable form, as well as a lot of space. Some suggest that all the world’s energy needs could be met by covering just 500,000 km2 (square kilometers) of land with photovoltaic solar panels, for example. Of course, then the question is, “Where are we going to find that much space to put solar panels?” Of course, the best answer is, “Everywhere!” if you consider all the many surfaces that would be suitable for mounting solar panels, such as rooftops and empty fields.

“What about other surfaces?” was another question that got researchers thinking. A few years ago, researchers at Swansea University developed what could have been a revolutionary product, a spray-on solar power generating paint that could be applied to practically any surface. Their research suggested that, even at just 5% efficiency, covering the paint company’s 100 km2 of steel cladding would generate some 4.5 TWh solar power annually. Like many promised technologies, Swansea University’s and Corus Colours’ spray-on solar power was never commercialized, but perhaps a few years of development were all that was needed?

Now, it’s not like you can go to The Home Depot and buy a rattle-can of spray-on solar power generating coating in any color you like, but the process seems to be doable in an industrial setting. Sheffield University researchers have developed a perovskite (calcium titanium oxide) spray-on coating that generates electricity in the presence of sunlight. Perovskite solar cells are inexpensive and fairly efficient, up to 19%, which makes for a good ¢/kWh rating.

The spray-on version developed by Sheffield University is currently up to 11%, but don’t let that number fool you. It may be lower in efficiency than traditional solar panels, but imagine the many surfaces that could now generate solar power, even at low efficiency. Imagine practically any fixed object that is currently covered in useless paint, such as the siding on your house or the steel cladding on commercial and industrial complexes, generating solar power. Some hybrid electric vehicles come with solar panels, so why not paint the whole car in solar power producing paint for constant trickle charging? If you can paint it, the possibilities for solar power could be nearly endless.

Photo credit: Anusska

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