The Indian steel giant Tata Steel has partnered with the Australian company Dyesol solar specialist, and the University of Swansea (South Wales) to develop a process capable of producing a coated steel girder solar panels.

A prototype beam 3 meters long, an area of ​​about one square meter, was indeed covered with a material sensitive to light. Solar cells have been “printed” directly on steel rather than a composite of cells added to an existing steel girder. This would be, the largest solar module DSSC (dye sensitised solar cells) in the world.

The steel cladding is a process already well known and used in corrosion protection. In this new development, the electrolyte, a layer of titanium dioxide pigment – used in white paints – is coated on the steel surface with a ruthenium dye.

When light hits the dye, it excites electrons which are immediately transported by the layer of titanium dioxide. This process is described by Dyesol as “artificial photosynthesis.” The solar cell based on dye will work as well in full sun in a diffuse light. So even if the conversion efficiency of 10% is much smaller than the 30% obtained with silicon solar cells, the cost per kilowatt of electricity generated, however, should be lower.

According to Tata Steel, a building with its beams “solar” steel could generate up to 20% of the power consumed.

This should have interesting implications on the world market and emerging building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV), which is estimated at about $ 400 billion.

Tata also plans to develop other integrated photovoltaic building with roofs, facades and windows. Also, to construct a building demonstration within 3 years, a team of 50 researchers has been established in the Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot in South Wales.

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