Copper ink could cut cost of solar energy systems

Jun 12, 2013

The commercialization of a new industrial process in upstate New York could lead to cheaper, greener solar energy systems.

Nanotech company Intrinsiq Materials has been awarded $887,000 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to take their idea forward.

Solar cells are currently made with circuits that use connections made from silver; an efficient but expensive conducting material.

While using copper ink for the boards is a less expensive alternative, it needs to be put through a baking process to enable it to conduct electricity at room temperature.

Jan Heyen of Intrinsiq says they’ve developed a technique that produces a form of highly conductive copper ink without going through the oven.

This means they can print on just about anything using a more efficient process with fewer emissions, she says.

“We can work on temperature sensitive substrates. So when you’re talking about thin film solar cells, flexible substrates, those sorts of things, you’re consuming much less material and your product flow is as straight forward as printing a newspaper or a magazine.”

NYSERDA’s funding is being matched by Intrinsiq with capital from private investors.

The money will be used to work towards commercialization of the copper-printed solar panels, possibly within a year.

“If Intrinsiq’s proprietary technology can successfully replace silver with copper in solar cells, the price of solar power could drop dramatically,” says NYSERDA president and CEO Frank Murray.

Intrinsiq estimates that copper ink could be up to 60 percent cheaper than silver making more affordable solar systems a strong possibility.