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Spray-on film turns windows into solar panels


August 17, 2010

EnSol's film being applied inside a deposition chamber

EnSol's film being applied inside a deposition chamber

Imagine if all the windows of a building, and perhaps even all its exterior walls, could be put to use as solar collectors. Soon, you may not have to imagine it, as the Norweigan solar power company EnSol has patented a thin film solar cell technology designed to be sprayed on to just such surfaces. Unlike traditional silicon-based solar cells, the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix, and operates on a different principle. EnSol is now developing the product with help from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

"One of the key advantages is that it is a transparent thin film that can be coated onto window glass so that windows in buildings can also become power generators,” said Chris Binns, Professor of Nanotechnology at Leicester. “Obviously some light has to be absorbed in order to generate power but the windows would just have a slight tinting (though a transmission of only 8-10% is common place for windows in the ‘sun belt’ areas of the world). Conversely the structural material of the building can also be coated with a higher degree of absorption. This could be side panels of the building itself, or even in the form of ‘clip-together’ solar roof tiles.”

For the time being, the research partners are developing prototype squares of the material, measuring 16 square centimeters each. The researchers say that, due to nanotech research that has already been performed at Leicester, the institution is uniquely suited for production of the film. Ultimately, EnSol hopes to achieve a cell efficiency of at least 20 percent, and have its product ready for the commercial market by 2016.

This development is reminiscent of Sphelar cells – solidified silicon drop-based solar cells recently developed by Kyosemi Corporation. Although the technology is different, they are also intended to be used in solar panels that double as windows.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I\'ve been hearing about these things for a few years now and have yet to see one come to market? I hope this isn\'t like all the others I\'ve read about.


LOL, hopes to be ready by 2016. Just a few minor things to work out, like how it\'s actually going to work, whether it will cost $10 per square foot, and whether it will last more than a week in real conditions. Vaporware! I\'m still excited to see all the work being done on alternative energy, and am hoping for the Big Day when one of these amazing technologies actually replaces coal plants to any degree.


I am having a very strong feeling of deja vu here. Didnt I read that before, like a few years ago?


It\'s a good time to be alive.

Facebook User

It took, what 40 years for computers to be available commercially, 7 years for CDs to go from prototype to release (and longer to really reach commercial viability). Why all the bitching about how new technologies take years to develop these days? That\'s how long these things take! If you don\'t want to know about developments/ideas years before commercial viability, stop reading the newsletter.


Yeah yeah yeah .... I am a bit tired of the \"Imagine\" and \"the grand plans for the future\".

Window glass $25 extra a square meter for the solar conversion film, from the glaziers - here, now, today.

The big sell of \"The friendly atom - where every home one day will have their own nuclear reactor in the basement giving unlimited energy forever\" (and in the car, and in the plane, and and and and ) hasn\'t quite worked out.

I mean we have had decades of the \"Golly wow gee\" hype.

Mr Stiffy

they don\'t want to electrocute the window cleaners


They\'re still quite tight with uranium :( We can\'t have it at all here in NZ. All about 2 heads, glowing children and bombs or something. Otherwise I\'d be up for a DIY pebble bed in the basement.... once I clear out the bodies... don\'t want zombies and you really don\'t want mutant radioactive zombies. ANY advancement in Solar technology is a blessing... but just like some others... quite itchy to see it (I think that\'s why I\'m itchy)

Craig Jennings

This is real science-\'nonfiction\'... and if True, its going to re-invent the good uses of Nano Technology.

Keep It Going!

Harpal Sahota.

Harpal Sahota

These are great, just making it a bit harder to sell current solar technology when these companies come up with ideas and bs claims that probably wont come through. People tend to say, \"why buy now, when tomorrow our windows will be solar panels.\" Like someone said, vaporware, it makes me have to bring them back to reality with all the plentiful examples of technology that \"will be ready in 10 years\".

Fabian Rousset

I agree, all the hype and no available product makes me a dull boy. I read about photovoltaic windos several years ago and expected a product available after three years, it seems like everybody in the world is dragging their feet to get more R&D money to keep testing forever until somebody else makes a bigger claim and get\'s the Reasearch money for themselves for another six years. If we can do it now, let\'s do it now. A 20 percent efficiency in an electric car windo set would add an extra 180 watts on top of the 1000 watts we should be getting with the top surfaces of the car, adding an extra hour of driving to a vehicle, or about 50 miles anyway. Looking forward to the reality of \"Add To Cart\" purchasing. Wade.

Ronald Cooper

Many companies around the world are are trying to replace Solar powered windows with spraying thin film solar technology. If this technology really works as planned, it could help the industrial settings largely where the buildings are in need of solar panels.


Where\'s my flying car!?!?!?!!1111///

C. Walker Walker

Do Want!

Gerard Gallagher

i want to ask ques. that what will be the cost of this material to spray on 1 m^2 area. is it affordable by common to people

Facebook User

Yeaaaa, Boeing, were is my PAVE - aka Personal Aerial Vehicle? Couple of years back(more like 10) a friend of mine working in building industry, gave me a brochure of Siemens, were this German firm already had such a technology! But did not properly hit the market. I don\'t know why, though.

Dan Vasii

What happened to the super efficient window panel technology developed in Florida recently? Is it comparable, and when can we buy some??


Not so fast with all that praise: sounds good prima facie, I admit - but upon further scrutiny it turns out that any safety aspects have not properly been takein into consideration. The "coating" or "film" seems to be nanotech-based and its health hazards (abrasion, inhalation of particles, food-chain contamination etc) are TOTALLY unknown today.

"Green" means ecologic: and ECOLOGY is the knowledge of the whole thing/world which, in my humble opinion, should include humans and all other forms of life - don't you think? So how "ecologic" would it be to risk further damage to these just to save a few bucks per Watt installed? There are equally promising and BETTER ways of harnessing high-tech solar power! (CSP or concentrating solar power comes to mind here.) Should we have greed take over Green energy just like everything else? There\'s no such thing as a free lunch for the greedy and hasty, not even with solar power...

Take your time -- not your life!

Markus Maege

I hope you all understand that \"spray on\" DOES NOT mean you will go to the local hardware store to purchase a can of solar film and spray it on like spray paint. The spray on is actually called \"Magnetron Sputtering.\" It is a deposition process similar to electroplating, except it takes place in a gaseous environment rather than liquid. The glass panels will be produced in a plant and sold to the installer (or maybe the consumer if you think you can do it yourself).

Sorry folks, but this article seems to imply that the product will be available as a consumer spray on product which is wrong.

There is a fairly decent explanation of the process in Wikipedia (if you can survive the atrocious grammar and sentence structure). Search \"magnetron sputtering.\"

The link to their web page is: www.ensol.no


Until humanity gets rid of the greed factor none of these advances will ever get out of the development stage. Big oil Big power generators will never let go of the political leaders in their pockets and our collective throats. They and their minions will stop at nothing to put the kibosh on all possible technology until all the non renewable fuel sources have run out then the mega wealthy will rule as they have longed for through out human history. The sad thing though is that we fall for the same B.S. every time and let the wolves guard the hen houses, the hens get eaten then we wine and then we forget until the next hopeful idea. The elite in this country have all the power and control example, the housing bubble, with the production capability in this country gutted by shipping production over seas and the generation that witnessed the great depression, (and in acted laws to close many of the loop holes and pull us out of that mess) Dead, in 2000 the powers that be rolled back those laws because no one remembered and let the Wolves eat us hens and get fat on our flesh, we get used and abused and we let them do it so why whine and complain about any of this? We are all just cannon fodder or better yet cattle waiting to enter the slaughter house!

Facebook User

How do you clean the windows without destroying the film or short circuiting the power grid?

Robert Si

I've been following nanotechnology--in all its innovative potential--by reading the NanoWerk newsletter. Though I'm not a scientist by education, I am by interest and constant searching. One area of great interest is the one Ben Coxworth has written about here--energy production. I'm waiting breathlessly for more information on availability of the spray-on nanocells and how they can be tied into the system of a residence. More, please!

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