Inkjet Printing to Create Solar Devices
July 2nd, 2011

Engineers at Oregon State University, Australia have discovered a way to create solar devices with inkjet printing. This approach would dramatically reduce waste material by 90%. More importantly, the “hit print” manufacturing method will bring the cost of solar energy cells way down.

Instead of depositing chemical compounds on a substrate with more expensive vapor phase deposition – wasting most of the material in the process – inkjet technology could create precise patterning with very low waste. More specifically, it is the inkjet’s dye delivery system that dramatically cuts the amount of time and waste of expensive and rare elements used in current methods of fabricating thin-film “CIGS” (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) solar cells.

The two key benefits of the CIGS solar devices are the ultra-low cost to produce them, and the decreased amount of raw material waste.

“Some of the materials we want to work with for the most advanced solar cells, such as indium, are relatively expensive,” said Chang. “If that’s what you’re using, you can’t really afford to waste it, and the inkjet approach almost eliminates the waste”. CIGS, also called chalcopyrite, has extraordinary solar efficiency. A layer 1 to 2 microns thick has about the same efficiency as a 50-micron-thick layer of silicon

The chalcopyrite(CIGS) at present can achieve a power conversion efficiency of approximately 5 percent. The researchers are now working to increase this efficiency to 12 percent to make it more economically viable. In addition, they are studying other compounds that could be used with inkjet technology in hopes of eliminating expensive vacuum systems and toxic chemicals that are more expensive and less environmentally friendly.

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