You are here

"Coat of paint on your house may one day power it"

The Straits Times featured an interview with Prof. Castro Neto regarding the paper recently published in Science, Strong Light-Matter Interactions in Heterostructures of Atomically Thin Films.

"IT SOUNDS like science fiction, but the coat of paint on your house could one day power it en­tirely. In what they say is a world first, scientists from Singapore have devised new photovoltaic cells that are so ultra­thin, solar panels could eventually be re­placed with solar 'paint'.

The scientists achieved this by combining graphene ­ the world's thinnest material and en­tirely made of carbon ­ with sen­sitive semiconductors known as transition metal dichalcogenides or TMDCs. This makes the solar cells 150 times thinner and 15 times more sensitive than the typical ones to­ day which use silicon, a less sensi­tive semiconductor which needs to be much thicker.

In fact, the new solar cell lay­ers are just seven atoms thick, said Professor Antonio Castro Ne­to, director of the Graphene Re­search Centre at the National Uni­versity of Singapore (NUS). 'Solar cells you see today are heavy and not flexible. These new cells are millions of times thinner than a human hair ­ - what we're looking at here would be the next generation of solar cells,' he said.

Prof Castro Neto collaborated with a team of 15 scientists from across Asia and Europe for about a year. Their findings were pub­lished last Thursday in science journal Sciencexpress. Their discovery could replace current solar technologies within two decades if industry responds
favourably and manufacturing costs become competitive with other energy sources, he added.

'You are seeing the birth of a new area of resear ch. The ques­tion is when, but yes, this is the next generation and could render silicon (cells) obsolete. Imagine, if we could cover entire surfaces of buildings with this, and har­vest sunlight that way ­ - it would be revolutionary.'

It could have huge implica­tions for Singapore. For example, coating the entire NUS campus or HDB towns with the 'paint' could allow them to run complete­ly on solar energy, he said. The same could be applied to cars or even trains, reaping huge energy savings. Singapore gets about 80 percent of its electricity from natural gas. The Government said last year that solar power could poten­tially meet about 15 per cent of Singapore's electricity needs, us­ing existing technology. The researchers' next chal­lenge is to synthesise the new ma­terials on a large scale, and create prototypes they can test on actu­al surfaces. Said Prof Castro Ne­to, whose research received $10 million funding over five years from the National Research Foun­dation in 2011: 'This is the first step in a long road. Since we are the world leaders on this, we can­ not waste this opportunity."

Theme inspired by Danetsoft