Scientists in Australia have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells – 10 times the size of what they were previously able to – thanks to a new solar cell 3D printer that could be a game changer for the solar power industry.
The researchers at Australia's Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) — a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners — have managed to print photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.
"There are so many things we can do with cells this size. We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside," said CSIRO materials scientist, Dr. Scott Watkins.
These cells produce 10-50 watts of power per m2, and could be used to laminate the windows of skyscrapers, giving them an additional source of power. Or they could be printed onto materials such as steel, meaning they could be embedded into roofs of buildings.
Photovoltaic cells — the building blocks of solar panels — have been printed before, but the printing process was different.
For their printable solar cells, the VICOSC team used photovoltaic ink, a $200,000 printer, and techniques similar to those you'd use "if you were screen printing an image on to a t-shirt."
One of the most important aspects of this approach, claims Watkins, is accessibility. "We're developing our processes to be able to use these existing printing technologies so that the barrier to entry for manufacturing these new printed solar cells is as low as possible," he said.