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June 28, 2011

Inkjet printing could change the face of solar energy industry

Solar cell - This scanning electron microscope, cross-sectional image shows the various compounds of a new chalcopyrite solar cell only a few microns thick, which can be created much less expensively with inkjet printing. (Image courtesy of Oregon State University)


Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way for the first time to create successful “CIGS” solar devices with inkjet printing, in work that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent and will significantly lower the cost of producing solar energy cells with some very promising compounds.

High performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low cost, thin film solar electronics should be possible, scientists said.



Further research is needed to increase the efficiency of the cell, but the work could lead to a whole new generation of solar energy technology, researchers say.

One of the most promising compounds and the focus of the current study is called chalcopyrite, or “CIGS” for the copper, indium, gallium and selenium elements of which it’s composed. CIGS has extraordinary solar efficiency – a layer of chalcopyrite one or two microns thick has the ability to capture the energy from photons about as efficiently as a 50-micron-thick layer made with silicon.

In the new findings, researchers were able to create an ink that could print chalcopyrite onto substrates with an inkjet approach, with a power conversion efficiency of about 5 percent. The OSU researchers say that with continued research they should be able to achieve an efficiency of about 12 percent, which would make a commercially viable solar cell.

In related work, being done in collaboration with Greg Herman, an OSU associate professor of chemical engineering, the engineers are studying other compounds that might also be used with inkjet technology, and cost even less.

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