The Silver-Ink Challenge: Can 3D Printing Bring Us Renewable Energy?
Could we use 3D printing technology to create paper-thin solar strips that are capable of generating electricity?
Xerox is in the process of developing a special type of silver-ink that melts at a temperature lower than plastic. Silver is one of the key elements to dielectrics, semiconductors, inductors, conductors, and various circuits. With the ability to print silver on to films, fabrics, and plastics, there is a strong potential for paper thin solar strips, adaptable sensors, and a wide variety of circuits — all of which could be printed on to paper thin materials!
“Xerox (NYSE: XRX) has announced its development of special silver inks which have a melting point below that of plastic. Crafted into different versions which can act as conductors, semiconductors, or dielectrics, this silver ink could allow users to print integrated circuits onto plastic, fabric, or film. (source: Aaron Saenz)”
Printing solar strips sounds pretty fascinating, but how would it work? To understand how 3D printing can work within solar energy, one must first understand the process behind photovoltaic (PV) solar energy.
In simple terms, PV solar panels involve a non-reflective layer of film, on top of a semiconductor which is sandwiched by a front and back contact terminal for the electric current to flow through.
Chris continues to describe the photovoltaic process and then concludes:
Theoretically, silver used in conjunction with FDM 3D printing and film could result in damage to the non-reflective film, as the heated silver might melt and warp the film. Currently, silver is not used in FDM printing at all. However, Xerox’s silver can be melted at a temperature lower than plastic and many films. If Xerox’s silver could be printed as a semiconductor, we would very likely be looking at paper thin PV solar strips. This would involve doping of this silver to make two different materials – positively charged silver and a negatively charged silver. This would be the key to 3D printable solar strips.
This is a very innovative idea and the impact could be massive if low-cost solar strips could be printed on demand.
Read the full post at 3dprinter.net.
Solar photovoltaic photo by PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used under Creative Commons license.