'Sunbelievable' Solar Paint Could Power Home Appliances, Scientists Say

Green homeowners may soon be able to say goodbye to unwieldy solar panels thanks to a new paint that generates electricity by harnessing energy from "power-producing nanoparticles, researchers have announced.

The paint, dubbed "Sunbelievable" by developers at the University of Notre Dame, looks no different from any other paint used to coat home exteriors and other surfaces. But when hit by light, the semiconducting particles within Sunbelievable produce small amounts of electricity that researchers hope they can magnify in great enough amounts to power home appliances, Science Daily reported.

"We want to do something transformative, to move beyond current silicon-based solar technology," research leader and Notre Dame professor Prashant Kamat said. "By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we've made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment."

Unfortunately the paint is far from ready to be sold commercially, Kamat explained.

"The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we've reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells," Kamat said. "But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future."

According to The Daily Mail, researchers will need to do a lot more than only "somewhat" improve the paint's efficiency because an average home needs about 285 square feet -- or £10,000 ($16,000) worth -- of solar panels to run.

That's not stopping many organizations from continuing to invest in traditional solar panel technology. Google and KKR & Co. announced Tuesday that they planned to invest a combined $189 million in U.S. solar facilities, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Solar power projecting are becoming more lucrative investments thanks to federal and state incentives and the declining price of solar panels, according to The Journal. Last month alone, Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holding Co. made plans for two huge solar-power investments, announcing plans to buy a $2 billion California solar farm in addition to a 49 percent share of a $1.8 billion solar-power plant owned by NRG Energy.

Buffett's investments come in spite of the devastating bankruptcy of promising Silicon Valley solar technology start-up Solyndra, which had received a half billion dollars in federal loans before suspending operations in August.

Solyndra's failure hasn't seemed to slow down the solar-industry all that much. According to a Dec. 15 report released by the Solar Energy Industries Assn., more solar installations occurred in the third quarter of this year than during all of 2009, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011," Rhone Resch, the chief executive of the solar group, told The Los Angeles Times. "Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America."