Who knew painting could be so energy efficient? Swansea University researchers are looking into ways of painting solar cells onto pliable steel surfaces in the hope of generating electricity from the process. The allegation is that this method could produce the same amount of electricity as 50 wind farms.
Dr Dave Worsley, a Reader in the Materials Research Center at the University's School of Engineering has this to say:
"Corus Colors produces around 100 million square meters of steel building cladding a year. If this was treated with the photovoltaic material, and assuming a conservative 5% energy conversion rate, then we could be looking at generating 4,500 gigawatts of electricity through the solar cells annually. That's the equivalent output of roughly 50 wind farms. "
Although this is really the first time the capabilities of the outside of the steel have been investigated, the University has high hopes of the prospects. One of the Doctorate students in the Engineering department had been exploring how sunlight interacts with paint. This exploration prompted a new development – "a photovoltaic method of capturing solar energy."
Photovoltaic means that the paint is capable of producing a voltage when exposed to radiant energy, especially light. The materials that Swansea is producing are, according to them, more efficient at capturing low light radiation.
The University initially performed the study via a research grant from Welsh Assembly Government's Welsh Energy Research Center, and this allowed from a great deal of the beginning data to be accumulated. Because that study proved to be so successful, an additional £ 1.5 million was awarded to the project for further evaluations.
So, how does one paint solar cells onto steel? The University desires for this to be done through the same conventional methods that paint is applied to steel during manufacturing – through rollers. Worsley is also exploring cost-efficient ways to make this whole process transpire.