Inkjet printing could create solar cells

June 28, 2011 at 8:24 PM

CORVALLIS, Ore., June 28 (UPI) -- Ink jet printers may aid the future of solar energy by reducing raw material waste and lowering the cost of producing solar energy cells, U.S. researchers say.

Engineers at Oregon State University say the low-cost technology that in recent decades has revolutionized home and small office printing could create high-performance, rapidly produced, low-cost, thin film solar electronics.

"This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field," said Chih-hung Chang, an OSU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "Until now no one had been able to create working CIGS solar devices with ink jet technology."

CIGS stands for copper, indium, gallium and selenium elements in a compound called chalcopyrite that shows great promise in solar cells, the researchers say.

"Some of the materials we want to work with for the most advanced solar cells, such as indium, are relatively expensive," Chang said. "If that's what you're using you can't really afford to waste it, and the ink jet approach almost eliminates the waste."

Researchers have been able to create an ink that could print chalcopyrite onto substrates with a power conversion efficiency of about 5 percent.

With continued research they should be able to achieve an efficiency of about 12 percent, they said, which would qualify as a commercially viable solar cell.

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