Traditional ink-jet printers are becoming a lot more versatile these days…
Scientists have actually given them the power to print in three dimensions – allowing us to create anything from prosthetic limbs to chocolate molds. There’s even one biotech company that’s discovered how to print an organ using your own stem cells as ink!
Pretty groundbreaking science, for sure.
But now, MIT researchers have found a way to repurpose the good old ink-jet printer to revolutionize the $6 billion U.S. solar energy industry.
More specifically, they’ve developed a new technology that can print solar panels on a piece of paper. And the process is done at a fraction of the cost of current solar cell production.
Let me explain…
Foldable Solar Panels Are on the Way
Basically, MIT researchers were able to create solar cells using five layers of specially formulated “ink.”
Their secret? Using vapor to spray on coats of solar cells, instead of the traditional liquid formula.
As a result, they’re able to blast the solar cells onto flimsy surfaces like cloth, plastic and even paper. Just like a normal solar cell, the printed cell can generate power using sunlight or ambient light around your house.
Imagine being able to print off a solar panel to stick on the back of your smartphone or iPad… on a laptop bag… the hood of your car… or use it to wallpaper your living room.
Heck, you can just stick one in your pocket or glove box just in case you need a quick charge on the go. As MIT puts it, “You can even fold it up to slip into a pocket, then unfold it and watch it generating electricity again in the sunlight.”
But the biggest benefit of the technology is clearly cost.
1,000 Times Cheaper Than Traditional Solar Glass
Widespread adoption of solar energy has been largely halted by excessive costs of current technologies. In traditional solar panels, the glass substrate component represents 40% of the cost.
But the paper substrate MIT is using costs 1,000 times less than glass.
And it’s not just the materials that are cheap. MIT equated the vapor printing technique to the same system that makes the shiny silver lining inside potato chip bags. So the actual process is relatively inexpensive, too.
The technology is still in its infancy, however. So the new printed cells are currently only running at about 1% efficiency. While that’s “good enough to power a small electric gizmo,” according to one scientist, it’s certainly not ready for primetime.
But MIT predicts it could be ready to power portable electronics within the next two years. Needless to say, the opportunity in this space alone could be huge…
In fact, according to New York investment firm, Kaufman Bros., this technology could open up an entirely new niche energy market for battery-powered electronics. And since MIT’s technology isn’t “competing with traditional solar panels out there at all” in portable electronics, it has the potential to dominate the industry single-handedly.
Currently, Eni (NYSE: E), Italy’s biggest oil company, is lined up to reap the benefits of this breakthrough. That’s because it’s funding MIT’s research into the technology.
As always, we’ll keep you updated on any developments in the space. Because a breakthrough like this could have endless possibilities in the future. So stay tuned.