Nanowire Ink: a Game Changer for the Solar Industry

10th Apr 2013

This week, Sweden based Sol Voltaics has announced that it intends to commercialise its new product that it believes could be a real game changer for the solar industry. The product consists of an ink that contains microscopic nanowire semiconductors which can boost the efficiency of solar panels by 25% at very little cost.

Increasing solar panel efficiency is important as it is the easiest way to reduce the cost of solar power, in terms of both the cost per watt for energy generation, and also the installation costs as fewer panels will be needed.

The idea of using nanowires to improve solar efficiency has been around for years, but the problem was always that nanowires are expensive and slow to produce in large numbers. They are generally grown on a substrate in a batch process that does not scale up.

However, Professor Lars Samuelson from the Lund University in Sweden has developed a new technique for manufacturing nanowires that allows the possibility of large-scale, low-cost production. Lars discovered that he could vaporise gold to produce aerosol like nanoparticles, and then inject these gold nanoparticles into a furnace along with two other gases; the gold then catalyses a reaction in the other gases which combine to form gallium arsenide nanowires.

The process is called aerotaxy and enables the production of gallium arsenide nanowires 20 to 1,000 times faster than traditional batch production techniques. By controlling the temperature and the reaction time Lars can then control the dimensions of the nanowires produced, and find the optimum size to improve the efficiency of the solar cells.

Brian Korgel, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas said that aerotaxy “has the potential to be scaled to a continuous process,” for the first time enabling mass production of nanowires at a relatively low cost.

Sol Voltaics is expected to produce the equipment needed to produce the nanowire ink, and then sell that to solar manufacturers, rather than sell the nanowires themselves.

By. Charles Kennedy