Inkjet-printed photos double as solar cells

inkjet solar cell image
© Aalto University

We've long heard the arguments about solar panels being ugly -- especially when it comes to rooftop solar -- people argue that they take away from a beautiful skyline or interfere with the history of the building or they stand out from the other houses in a neighborhood. Researchers have been working on not only improving the performance of solar cells, but on making them blend in more with their surroundings.

Transparent solar cells and thinner, more flexible ones have been developed so that, in the future, they'll be a part of the thing they're powering.

Researchers at Aalto University have come up with a way to make solar power not just less noticeable, but more beautiful. Solar cells have been produced with printing techniques for a long time now -- organic and dye-sensitized solar cells specifically -- but these researchers wanted to see if they could use traditional inkjet printing to create solar power images like if they were using normal printing ink.

Using photovoltaic ink they received from researchers at Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the team printed semi-transparent, dye-sensitized solar cells containing portrait images. The inkjet image solar cells were as efficient and durable as solar cells created in more traditional ways and after 1,000 hours of continuous light exposure and heat stress, they hadn't declined in performance.

The benefits of having a solar cell printed with shapes and images is that, while converting light to electricity, the solar surface could also contain visual information or graphics. Those images could be tweaked so that the darkness and transparency of different parts adds to the efficiency of the solar cell or the overall design of the object.

This idea could lead to solar cells being incorporated as part of the design of low power devices -- something that adds to the beauty of an object instead of taking away from it -- all while producing the electricity needed to power it.

Inkjet-printed photos double as solar cells
This new technique marries design and solar power.

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