London, March 9 : Scientists at the Swansea University are investigating how to exploit paint, usually used for covering buildings, as an alternative form of sustainable energy.
The research team is developing a way to paint solar cells onto the steel sheets commonly used to clad large buildings.
The Materials Research Centre at the University's School of Engineering have been working with the steel industry for a long time and have uncovered a novel new way to make use of paint. "We have been collaborating with the steel industry for decades but have tended to focus our attention on improving the long-term durability and corrosion-resistance of the steel. We haven't really paid much attention to how we can make the outside of the steel capable of doing something other than looking good," New Scientist magazine quoted Dr Dave Worsely from the research centre, as saying. "One of our Engineering Doctorate students was researching how sunlight interacts with paint and degrades it, which led to us to developing a new photovoltaic method of capturing solar energy," he added.
Steel sheets are painted rapidly in steel mills by passing them through rollers. The Swansea team is hoping to use that process to cover steel sheets with a photovoltaic paint at up to 40 square metres per minute.
Dr Worsely said that the paint would be based on dye-sensitised solar cells.
They would use dye molecules attached to particles of the titanium dioxide pigment used in paints instead of absorbing sunlight using silicon like conventional solar panels, he added.
This process would give an energy boost to electrons, which would then hop from the dye into a layer of electrolyte, thus transferring the extra energy into a collecting circuit, before the electrons cycle back to the dye.
Dr Worsley said that the idea to paint the cells onto architectural steel grew out of previous research by his group into the ways steel on buildings is degraded by the elements.
Steel manufacturer Corus is now helping the scientists develop the technology.
The group of six academics at Swansea University is now leading a partnership with Bangor University, the University of Bath and Imperial College London to develop the product.