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Tata Steel partnership yields solar girders

Dyesol solar panels incorporated into steel girders through research partnership.

A 10-foot girder integrated with solar cells by a team of 30 researchers in Wales. Dyesol

Steel giant Tata Steel has partnered with Australian solar developer Dyesol to produce a steel girder coated with solar panels, both companies announced this week.

The prototype girder was made as one continuous length of coated steel 10 feet long that can capture both direct and diffuse light. The solar cells were "printed" directly onto the steel as opposed to being a composite of multiple cells added to an existing steel girder. The new process will enable Tata Steel to integrate photovoltaics in building materials in volume for a moderate cost.

It's the world's largest dye-sensitized solar cell (DSC) module and the result of the companies' joint research project consisting of 30 scientists and engineers at a laboratory in Wales, according to Tata.

The girder is only the first step in a plan to develop a long list of building-integrated photovoltaics that include roofs, facades, and windows. The material could even be developed to integrate with auto materials, according to Tata.

Of course, Tata and Dyesol are just two of many companies developing building-integrated photovoltaics in recent years. Already available, or on the horizon for commercial builders and consumers, are solar roof tiles, roof wrapping, facades, windows, skylights, and even mirrors.

Flexible thin-film solar cells are also being incorporated into personal items like backpacks, laptop cases, and luggage as a way to offer consumers on-the-go charging sources for portable electronic devices.