Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu is leading the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's efforts to develop cleaner forms of energy, including new types of solar cells and new biofuels. He answered viewer questions about his research and the future of alternative fuels.
We would like to use solar power to power our new house. You mentioned replacing photovoltaic cells with a "paint-on" polymer. Can I use this method soon? It would be very beneficial in Florida due to storms and wear and tear on our roof.
Steven Chu responds:
The overall goal is to develop a technology whereby the rooftops of residential homes and commercial buildings can be laminated with inexpensive, ultra-thin films of nano-sized semiconductors that will efficiently convert sunlight into electrical power and provide virtually all of our electricity needs. These polymer solar cells could be spin-cast or more likely manufactured by a roll-to-roll process, similar to the way photographic film is made, or possibly inkjet printed in a way reminiscent of newspaper printing. (Although they could not literally be painted on or sprayed on by the end user, as the full system must consist of several stacked layers each with controlled thickness.)
This is still a prospective technology and doesn't have a production timeline at this point.