Solar Paint? Sun-Believable May Be the First Step

Sun-Believable Solar Paint

Sun-Believable Solar Paint


Can solar paint power up your house?  The Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano) research team unveiled “Sun-Believable,” which may change the face of solar someday.  Before you start thinking about repainting your house,  the paint is a work in progress.

According to the team, the research showed the paint only had a 1 percent efficiency compared to its silicon cousins with its 10-15 percent efficiency.  Watch the below short video to see how this inexpensive product works.

When I read NDnano’s article about the advancements, I was beyond excited.  As many of my readers know I love renewable energy and especially solar.  Any time I can report about it, I do.   Solar is just so damn sexy.  Think Ryan Reynolds in silicon.

Needing More Information

In true Green Talk form, I can’t just read a press release or article on a website, then write about it.  There are more details that need to be fleshed out.  After 12 enlightening emails exchanges with team leader Prashant Kamat, John A. Zahm Professor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry, I was ready to provide you with more information.

Unfortunately, Kamat didn’t want me to relay any of my new found information unless it was contained in ASCNano research paper, which can only be read if you want to pay for the publication or your library has access to it.  I did have a copy of it but wanted to limited my discussion to what you had access to.

To say I was disheartened  was an understatement.  I guess he didn’t want the media to make more out of the product than what it is.   Nevertheless, I respected his wishes.  What is said in email, says in email.

How Does the Paint Work?

Before I go any further, I am not an engineer, nor a scientist.  Although I understand the concept, I am not trained in how the nuisances of the product work.  For those who want more information, I urge you to read the above research paper.  According to the NDnano article, the drive to create this concept was to move beyond silicon-based solar technology.  Basically, the paint application is

“nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, which were coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. The particles were then suspended in a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste.

When the paste was brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light, it created electricity.”

The Cadmium Red Flag

The minute I read “nano-size particles of titanium dioxide” and “coated with cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide”  a red flag appeared in my line of vision.  I remember a while ago the First Solar thin film toxic cadmium discussion as well as Consumer Report’s article about the potential hazards of nanotechnology.

Solar companies who uses of cadmium as of this date are exempt from ROHS compliance.  However, the Sweden based not for profit ChemSec, The International Chemical Secretariat, who is dedicated to working towards a toxic free environment warns:

“[c]admium Telluride panels contain Cadmium. Cadmium is an identified high concern chemical with a range of problematic properties, such as being carcinogenic and suspected of being mutagenic and toxic to reproduction. Cadmium is already restricted in e.g. RoHS I, in packaging material, in EU plastics (pigments) and in EU Toys legislation.”

In addition, a 2011 University of Buffalo study revealed that “[q]uantum dots made from cadmium and selenium degrade in soil, unleashing toxic cadmium and selenium ions into their surroundings.”  Diana Aga, the chemistry professor who led the study stated

“[t]he research, accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrates the importance of learning more about how quantum dots — and other nanomaterials — interact with the environment after disposal.”

The Sun-Believable team is using quantum dots with cadmium.  Was I worried? You bet.

Could acid rain pollutants interacting with the paint causing the ions to wash into the soil over time?  How would that affect nearby plants or the soil?  Would certain soils allow for more leaching than others into the aquifers?

My Thoughts

The Sun-Believable research seems promising with a long way to go to before becoming efficient. Although the paint is viewed as a low cost alternative to silicon panels, can it take the environmental beating that Mother Nature unleashes to outdoor products?  Time will tell as the team advances in their research.

As for the use of cadmium,  it is my hope is that the team chooses another material to continue their research.  Hopefully, this becomes a non-issue if the EU decides in a few years to ban the use of cadmium in solar panels.  Again, time will tell.

Join the Conversation

  • What are your thoughts about the technology?
  • How do you feel about cadmium being used in solar panel?  In this application?
  • Do you see solar paint being a viable alternative?
Photo courtesy of Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology

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