True energy independence requires that we can manufacture the systems that collect solar or other renewable energy while using only those same renewable sources of energy.
Researchers at Oregon State University therefore celebrate their breakthrough in producing solar energy materials with the power of the sun. Even better, the process offers time saving and cost benefits over current processes.
The new process relies on a continuous production process. Solar power heats materials in a continuous flow micro-reactor to generate a photosensitive ink which can be used to print thin film solar panels. Compared to current manufacturing methods, which are mostly batch processed, the continuous flow approach saves time -- producing materials in minutes that might take half an hour to several hours by traditional methods.
This time savings equals cost savings, of course. Additional savings may be realized by using the process currently developed for copper indium diselenide on less expensive compounds such as copper zinc tin sulfide. Using salts to store solar heat could make the energy necessary for this process available even during the dark hours, further promoting the benefits of the continuous flow reactor.
State of the art thin film solar cells based on similar materials have already topped a respectable 20% solar conversion efficiency in lab testing. The use of thin film solar materials will also enable designers to integrate solar power converting materials into traditional building materials, expanding the opportunities to take advantage of the free energy delivered by our nearest star.