As part of their green project, the engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, have invented a way to print solar cells on regular paper. They have experimented printing them on paper such as tissue, newsprint, and printer paper with success. Fabric and thin plastic can even be used. The printable “ink” is made from common elements and, therefore, environmentally friendly.
The process is not as simple as putting the special ink in your inkjet printer and printing out your very own solar panels. Printing must be done in an airtight room, or vacuum chamber. Five successive runs through the printer must be done using a mask made of paper on top of the paper bring printed on to form the patterns of the cells.
In California, Nanosolar, a green technology company, developed an ink that they could use to print solar panels on thin, flexible foil resulting in a lower production cost. They began assembling and selling the solar panels in 2007.
Konarka, another green technology company, came out with a printable solar panel in 2008. They replaced the ink in an inkjet with solar cell material and paper with a thin sheet of plastic. These panels are being used in indoor sensors and small radio frequency identification devices such as the price tag readers used in stores.
The MIT engineers have not been able to produce enough power with it, however, to power more than a clock or other small electronic device. They are working to improve its efficiency. If they succeed, it is possible that someday, in the near future, it might be used for lightweight batteries, to power a cell phone, or even to power your printer.