CSIRO hits Ctrl+P on newest solar tech
A team of scientists from the CSIRO have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in the country – up to 10 times larger than what has previously been able to be produced – using a new solar cell printer.
The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VIOSC) to print off organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheer of paper.
The breakthrough will open up a huge range of possibilities, according to CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins.
"There are so many things we can do with cells this size," he says. "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."
The new printer, worth A$200,000, is a big step up for the VICOSC team. In just three years they have gone from making cells the size of a fingernail to cells 10cm square. Now with the new printer they have jumped to cells that are 30cm wide.
ICOSC project coordinator and University of Melbourne researcher Dr David Jones says that one of the great advantages of the group's approach is that they're using existing printing techniques, making it a very accessible technology.
"We're using the same techniques that you would use if you were screen printing an image on to a T-Shirt," he says.
Using semiconducting inks, the researchers print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. With the ability to print at speeds of up to ten metres per minute, this means they can produce one cell every two seconds.
As the researchers continue to scale up their equipment, the possibilities will become even greater.
"Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers," Dr Jones says. "By printing directly to materials like steel, we'll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials."
The organic photovoltaic cells, which produce 10–50 watts of power per square metre, could even be used to improve the efficiency of more traditional silicon solar panels.