The military is often at the forefront of renewable energy technology. That’s because fossil fuels are costly, dangerous and difficult to transport. They create a heat signature that is easily located by enemies and require large convoys for keeping the troops powered. And they are proving ever more difficult and costly to secure.
So, it was not a surprise when Renewable Energy World reported that the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been working with the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center and Plextronics to develop a conductive ink that allows the use of an ink-jet printer to make printed organic photovoltaic solar cell panels on very thin, flexible surfaces.
The new technology, called Plexcore, has a number of advantages for the military; it is ready to use, inexpensive, has little logistical footprint and is easy to use for powering portable communications, cell phones, radios Global Positioning Systems and other devices. It will also allow solar cells to be printed on military tents and soldiers’ uniforms. Energy systems, ready to go.
Talking about the technology, 2nd Lt. Christopher A. Vaiana of the Directorate's Nonmetallic Materials Division said "Military and commercial operations demand portable, highly efficient power sources. Using the power provided by natural sunlight via solar cells is an attractive option, yet has thus far been restricted by cost and size." Not anymore.
Plextronics explains that all printed electronic applications require one or more conductive layers that can be integrated with organic semiconductors, dielectrics and other conductive films to create energy.
In printed solar cells, sunlight is collected in the photoactive layer to create charge carriers. When voltage is applied to the device, these carriers are separated into positive and negative charges and then directed to the conductive electrodes (cathode and transparent anode) to create power. The hole transport layer improves extraction of positive charges from the photoactive ink by matching of energy levels to photoactive ink. The combination of the Plexcore PV inks in a printed solar cell enables consistently improved device efficiency, which results in the ability to convert more sunlight into power. - Engineering TV
Another advantage is that these printed solar cells can also use indoor light to make energy, creating a number of possibilities for home use. But as is often the case, the military will be an early adopter, and consumer applications will follow.
It may be soon, though, that anyone with an ink jet printer and a flexible surface to print on will be able to create solar cells and their own energy source. All it will take is a little ink.
To watch a video about this conductive ink, click here.
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