Up to now, solar power has largely been generated on rooftops and in open areas like deserts. But the day is coming when the technology will be much more ubiquitous. We’ll build solar cells into windows, cell-phone screens, and perhaps even into throwaway household items.
Lucelo Technologies, in Texas provides a glimpse of that future. Though at an early stage, it’s developing a solar paint that can be spread on more or less anything–including plastic bags and shopping labels.
“We can basically build a solar cell on any material because we don’t need high temperature processing and we don’t need vacuum techniques,” explains chief scientist Taylor Harvey. “It could open up new markets for solar where having a flexible, lightweight solar cell is needed.”
Harvey worked in the oil and gas industry before going back to the University of Texas to get his PhD. Lucelo is a spinout from UT; Harvey is in his fifth and final year.
The solar paint is like a normal paint, except instead of pigment suspended in a solvent Lucelo uses nano-crystals that absorb sunlight. Harvey says the solution is sprayable with a gun that you can buy at any hardware store.
The difficulty is capturing the energy. Currently, the company uses conventional outer layers, but it’s working towards additional paints that would be more like a topcoat. Harvey sees applications either where you don’t need much power (i.e. to run an LED light or motion detector) or where space isn’t limited (like on the side of a building). The paint currently has an efficiency rating of 3%, far behind of an industry average of 15%-20% for solar panels.
Various other research groups are also working on solar paints, including one at the University of Sheffield and another at .
Lucelo is looking for seed funding and hopes to have a full prototype within six months. “We’re probably two or three steps away from where you can just go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy three cans of paint and slap it on the wall,” Harvey says.