Rolling Out Power to the People
08 Sep 2009
Imagine each and every surface under the sun covered with a film that captures light and transforms it into electricity.
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Imagine each and every surface under the sun covered with a film that captures light and transforms it into electricity; an office window that directly powers your computer, or a parasol that runs a laptop, allowing you to email from the beach. What about a sun roof that keeps your electronics ticking over while you drive, a canvas cover that recharges your electric car or a tent that turns a reading light on and warms up your sleeping bag after the sun goes down?
Rick Hess, who runs innovative solar company, Konarka, is justifiably proud of his company’s latest creation, because it will do all of these things. Invented by the firm’s co-founder and Nobel Prize winner, Dr Alan Heeger, ‘Power Plastic’ is a light, thin, flexible, energy-generating sheet. It converts both indoor and out-door light into direct electrical current — a solar panel that rolls up like camera film. “Soon, you might not even need batteries,” Rick Hess says. “We can put this stuff anywhere!”
Power Plastic is made up of several thin components: a photo-reactive film, a transparent electrode layer, a plastic substrate and a protective skin, yet it is only five millimetres thick. The sheets can be 60 inches wide and any length, just like when a newspaper is printed on a continuous roll of paper. Its bendiness means that everyday items, even clothes, could be turned into power sources.
Unlike other photovoltaic technology, Power Plastic sheets are organic, free of toxic materials and therefore ‘green’. Their easy application means they create complete energy independence wherever they go. Power will no longer be limited to rigid, outdoor, large-scale panels, nor will the consumer have to wait years to see a return on their solar investment.
Konarka, aptly named after the Hindu Sun God, recently teamed up with Arch Aluminum & Glass, to integrate Power Plastic into the development of light-harvesting windows. The idea is destined to become popular among homeowners who do not want to spoil the look of their roofs or who live in listed properties.
The product also comes in a range of colours to give architects free scope to design it into any type of glass surface, even laminated, security or sound proof. Of course, the process of installing new windows is much less intimidating for a homeowner than the idea of fitting an expensive solar rig on the roof. In fact, accessible power generation could soon be rolled out to an unlimited audience, especially remote or grid-less regions of the developing world. It could even, one day, turn every resident into a supplier of excess power to their national grid — an abundant renewable source of global energy, eradicating the demand for fossil fuel alternatives altogether.
“The burning question for all DIYers and eco-conscious geeks alike, is can we expect to see rolls of Power Plastic on the shelves of home improvement stores anytime soon?” Popular Mechanics asked Rick Hess. “Not exactly,” he replied, “but check back in two years and we’ll give you an update.”
Contact: Konarka Technologies, 116 John Street, Suite 12, 3rd Floor, Lowell, Massachusetts, MA 01852, USA
Tel: +1 (978) 569 1400
Dr Terri Jordan, vice president of business development at Konarka, holds up a sheet of Power Plastic
Photo: courtesy of George Disario
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