Spray-on solar ink is coming soon — to paint on roofs and generate energy

[Update: We've clarified this story to make clear that Innovalight is not involved with this project]Technology to turn light-absorbing materials into nano-size particles to make so-called solar ink that can be sprayed on to roofs to generate energy, is apparently only three to five years from becoming a reality.

At least, that’s according to Brian Korgel, an entrepreneur and chemical engineer at the University of Texas at Austin. Korgel tells LiveScience that his project, which has been spun out of the university, has goals to make solar cells both paintable and sprayable. That way building developers could coat massive surfaces — entire roofs even — with energy-generating compounds of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). To give you a sense of how small these nano-particle cells are, they are reportedly 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

[Korgel was earlier a founder of Innovalight, the Sunnyvale, Calif. company that makes light-activated power generating products based on nanomaterials. The last time VentureBeat reported on Innovalight, it had just nabbed $5 million in financing from Silicon Valley Bank and Leader Ventures for continued development.]

Results today are somewhat disappointing, with the cells converting only 1 percent of the sunlight absorbed into usable electricity. In order to compete with standard solar panels (some of which are 25 percent efficient), it will have to hit a target of 15 percent at minimum. The company says it will start looking at commercialization once it achieves 10 percent.

Korgel says he anticipates semi-transparent solar inks that can one day be used to paint windows, cooling interiors while generating energy. It also earns brownie points for using CIGS solar modules, which are not only less expensive than silicon, but less harmful to the environment.

[Image credit: LiveScience]