When homes and buildings don photovoltaic skins

What if you could go down to the local big box building supply store and custom order a photovoltaic skin for your home? That’s the question that came to mind when I read “Window Power? a short article in the current MIT Technology Review. The article is about dye-sensitized solar cells. This isn’t a new technology; Michael Graetzel, a chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) invented it 15 years ago. He used dye molecules attached to nano-sized titania particles sandwiched between two panes of glass to absorb light and release electrons. The electrons were then collected by the titania particles to produce energy.

In 2002, Konarka, a company based in Lowell, MA gained licensee rights to dye-sensitized solar cell technology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). It leveraged its intellectual property along with the EPFL license, to develop a breakthrough technology. The breakthrough is photovoltaic fabric and plastic. This photovoltaic material cost 60% less than conventional silicon-based product; is lightweight; uses a wider range of the light spectrum, not just sunlight. And it can generate direct current electrical energy for immediate use, for storage, or for conversion to other forms of energy.

Today Konarka is developing materials in custom colors and patterns to suit customer specifications that will transform tents, awnings, roofs, windows and window coverings into power generators. They’re also developing portable, electric-generating buildings for the military that look like the Quonset huts the Navy began building in the early 1940’s. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that tomorrow consumers, architects, and builders will be able to have custom designed power-generating skins for their homes or commercial buildings.


Organic Photovoltaics

Friday Catch-Up -- Nano Edition (01/27/06)