According to a UK scientist Dr. Dave Worsley, commercial panels of architectural steel, painted with special solar-power paint capable of generating electricity should be available in as little as two and a half years. Dr Worsley and Dr Trystan Watson of Swansea University have developed a new paint based on dye-sensitized solar cells. This new solar paint is a result of previous research into different ways of preventing metal buildings from degrading due to the elements. Dr. Worsley describes the idea as “a collision between two existing technologies – one for generating electricity and one for applying paint to steel.”
The paint works by giving energy boosts to free electrons causing them to jump from dyed titanium dioxide into a layer of electrolyte. This causes excess energy to flow into the collecting circuit before the electrons jump back into the dyed titanium dioxide pigment. This process, unlike typical silicon based photovoltaic cells, where the suns energy is absorbed, is less efficient, however this also means that expensive solar grade silicon is not needed thereby lowering the cost.
These solar cells are allied in separate layers directly onto the metal substrate. The first layer applied to the steel panels is a typical paint layer used as a base. Next, the layer of electrolytes and then the titanium dioxide dye layer is applied. Finally, a clear coat is applied to protect the paint and metal from the elements. Scientists are still working on this application and hope to use typical manufacturing paint rollers to apply this solar power paint to steel at up to 40 square meters per minute.
Michael Gratzel, one of the original developers of this revolutionary paint product, insists that these are very rugged systems able to survive for very long periods of time. Currently these cells are being tested outside in Japan where they have been fully functional for over 4 years and have not lost any efficiency in that amount of time. Typical solar panels are generally warranted for 20-30 years depending on the manufacturer, and will see some degradation over this period of time. If this new solar paint can show this type of life cycle at lower cost, we could be looking at one of the most significant environmental breakthroughs adding over 4,500 gigawatts to the existing grid. This is about one third of the generating capacity of the entire world, although Hank over at EcoGeek thinks that this was a typo and the real number is 4,500 gigawatt-hours, which would pretty much take care of the entire world.