Paint your way to energy self sufficiency

By Pat Pilcher

New paint technology could offer solar power without the expense of solar panels. Photo / Thinkstock
New paint technology could offer solar power without the expense of solar panels. Photo / Thinkstock

Like most people, I'd love to get out of the ongoing fiscal pain that is paying a monthly power bill. Power costs mightn't be a biggie whilst we're enjoying summer, however every winter the nation emits an involuntary groan of pain as the shock that comes with the power bill makes many ponder alternatives to the grid.

Perhaps the most widely-known alternative to handing over wads of cash to your local power company involves fitting solar panels to the roof of your home.
During daylight hours these charge a bank of batteries that in turn provide electricity at night. Best of all, no electricity providers pocket your hard-earned cash in the process.

This said, kitting a home out with solar panels isn't a cheap process, with costs starting in the tens of thousands of dollars, which has limited the uptake of solar cells to the few that are willing to invest in a long term payback.

This could soon be thankfully about to change, as researchers at Notre Dame university have created paint that conveniently generates electricity from daylight.

The secret sauce to this amazing feat involves nanoparticles of titanium dioxide - the same as used in sunscreen. The really clever part however, sees these particles being coated with semiconducting cadmium nanocrystals, and the whole lot being mixed in a cocktail of water and alcohol which creates a golden yellow paste.

Researchers have named this goop "Sunbelievable". When brushed onto a conductive glass electrode, and attached that to a similar nanode, it completes a circuit that generates current when light is shined onto it.

As amazing as this discovery is, it is still very early days, and there are still limitations. The efficiency of Sunbelievable (that is its ability to covert light into electricity) is still only about one per cent, which is far lower than the 10 per cent efficiency of conventional solar panels.

While the paint is nowhere near as efficient as a traditional panel, it is vastly cheaper, with the Notre Dame researchers saying that Sunbelievable is cheap to make, and can be cranked out in almost any colour.

The implications are potentially boggling - whole suburbs of Sunbelievable painted homes could generate significant amounts of energy, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emitting power plants needed for traditional electricity generation.

Assuming the efficiency of Sunbelievable improves at a similar rate to existing solar panels, it is also theoretically possible that electric cars of the near future could be charged via their paint jobs.

Sunbelievable is however a some off from being commercially available, but painting ones way to true energy efficiency is looking to be a very tantalising prospect indeed.


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