Harnessing the sun’s power for all

(Edmonton) Inexpensive solar power technology for everyone is the goal of a University of Alberta research team.

The researchers, led by Jillian Buriak, a U of A chemistry professor, senior research officer with the National Institute for Nanotechnology and Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials, are searching for an alternative to current silicon-based solar cell technology.

Buriak says solar power could meet one of the world’s foremost challenges—satisfying our growing demand for secure, clean energy—but today’s solar panel technology is still expensive.

“Silicon comes from sand, it takes a lot of energy to process, and installation of solar panels requires contractors and structural reinforcement to carry the weight of the heavy technology,” she says.

The U of A team is working to overcome those limitations by developing lightweight, flexible solar panels. Buriak says rolls of plastic sheeting will be sprayed with a molecular substance that converts sunlight into electricity. 

Buriak sees almost limitless applications for the solar panel sheets, well beyond installation on building rooftops.

“Because of its rugged, lightweight, versatile nature, it could be woven into clothing, backpacks, tents—almost anything you use or wear that’s exposed to sunlight could be used to store energy. Your backpack could be absorbing sunlight and charging your iPod or your laptop computer.”