SWANSEA, UKResearchers at Swansea University are investigating ways of painting solar cells onto the flexible steel surfaces that are used for cladding buildings. An ecological alternative, this photovoltaic method of capturing solar energy could generate a significant amount of electricity. The group is working with Corus Colors of Deeside, which produces about 100 million square meters of steel building cladding per year. It is estimated that 4500 GW h of electricity could be generated from one year’s production of the steel if it were treated with photovoltaic materials, assuming a 5 per cent energy conversion rate. Scientists at the Materials Research Centre at Swansea University test the efficiency of new solar cells under a Dyesol solar simulator. Image courtesy of Swansea University.A grant from the Welsh Assembly Government’s Welsh Energy Research Centre, based in Port Talbot, enabled the researchers to work with Corus to investigate the feasibility of developing an efficient solar cell system that can be applied to steel buildings. Based on the success of the initial study, the UK government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, of Swindon, has awarded £1.5 million to Swansea University, Bangor University, the University of Bath and Imperial College London to further develop viable photovoltaic materials for use within the steel industry. The materials under development would be more efficient at capturing low-light radiation than are the conventional solar cells. The researchers’ goal is to produce solar cells that can be painted onto a flexible steel surface at a rate of 30 to 40 m2/min. It is hoped that layers of the solar cell system can be applied to steel in much the same way that paint is applied to the metal as it is passed through rollers during the manufacturing process.