According to a recent discover at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, this scenario is likely to become reality in the near future.

A team of researcher at Notre Dame University has recently created a ‘solar paint’ able to produce energy.
Made of titanium dioxide nanoparticles that are first coated with cadmium sulfate or cadmium selenide, and then suspended in a water-alcohol mixture, the brand new compound is brushed onto a transparent conducting material that is eventually exposed to light to generate energy.
According to Preshant Kamat, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame who is leading this research, the best light-to-energy transformation efficiency that has been reached so far is just 1%. Far beyond the 10-15% produced by traditional silicon panels. At the moment, efforts to increase the efficiency of the so-called Sun-Believable paint have been put in place, however, researchers have declared that at least two important characteristics already make this solution a viable one: it’s cheap and it can be made in large quantities.
Are these two aspects important enough to boost research in this field?

There is widespread acknowledgment that we must look to alternative energy sources able to both satisfy our increasing need for energy and preserve our environment.
However, looking at the many international debates on this topic, it’s worth pointing out that contrasting interests often hamper the chances of reaching an agreement. On one hand, the Global North is questioning on possible strategies to solve this problem. On the other hand, many developing countries in the Global South are in the process of economic growth and are deeply contributing to increase greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the Global North is not willing to be the only one who makes sacrifices by reducing its consumption and investing in alternative forms of energy, while some of the fastest growing economies in the developing world like China and India don’t want to ‘pay for something they are not responsible for’. Furthermore, there is a third group composed of the underdeveloped countries, those called ‘the bottom billion’ by Professor Paul Collier. These countries, the poorest in the world, have missed the opportunity to speed up their economy and they are now struggling to survive. And therefore, they lack the economic resources that would be necessarily to invest in alternative and environmentally friendly solutions.

In this context, it’s not hard to understand that, despite the many difficulties, when we think of viable solutions to solve our increasing need of energy, we first have to consider a few important aspects:

  • Costs: the proposed solution should be easily affordable by everyone in the world.
  • Availability of the required resources.

This second aspect reminds of what I’ve already written one month ago about water shortage. We are running into a ‘renewable peak limits’ which means that if we increase the amount of water we are taking out of rivers, our basic resource won’t be renewable anymore. It means that every inexhaustible resource we might use to produce energy could become exhaustible if we don’t manage it properly as it’s the case for water consumption.

In light of the above, the possibility of producing energy just by colouring the external walls of our houses with a cheap paint that can be easily made in large quantities seems to be a viable alternative to the expensive silicon panels. Let’s wait to see improvements in the research on semiconductor nanoparticles in the months to come.