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Printable solar cells close to commercialisation: CSIRO

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Australian developed technology that allows solar cells to be printed out and attached to most surfaces is almost ready for market, the CSIRO has said.

CSIRO’s senior research scientist Dr Fiona Scholes said the technology – which consists of a ‘solar ink’ designed to convert sunlight into electricity – was approaching commercialisation stage, and could be used to power anything from laptops to rooftops.

The Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium behind the project – including scientists from the CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University – has been developing the technology since 2007.

5731678-3x2-940x627A commercial printer at the CSIRO office in Clayton, Victoria, which has been modified to take the solar ink, has been working on prototypes of the solar cells for years now, to improve their efficiency.

(Currently, the printed cells are 10 times less efficient than standard silicon solar panels, but the team hopes to improve on that.)

The printer deposits a fine layer of the solar ink onto a material, like plastic, and then attached to a variety of surfaces or objects.

For windows, the solar ink can achieve a semi-transparent effect, tinting the glass while enabling it to generate electricity. Smaller sized printouts can to be used to charge devices like smartphones and laptops.

The CSIRO has had the solar cells successfully generating energy of the roof of its Clayton office for the past 18 months.

According to Fiona Scholes, who heads up integrated systems and devices at CSIRO’s manufacturing flagship, any plastic surface can be substituted for solar panels using the technology – making it perfect for powering a skyscraper, she said.

“We print them onto plastic in more or less the same way we print our plastic banknotes. Connecting our solar panels is as simple as connecting a battery.”

Dr Scholes says several companies, including leading Australian solar dye cell manufacturer, Dyesol, had expressed interest in helping to commercialise the technology.

“We can’t manufacture them here, but we are at the point where they can be taken up by a manufacturer,” Scholes told Guardian Australia.

“It would be wonderful if we could achieve a similar power delivery at significantly reduced cost. Silicon is falling in price, but think about how cheap plastic is. The ink is a negligible cost, so the raw materials are very cost effective.

“This is a big step forward because you can put these cells anywhere you can think of. Also the consistency is better than silicon – they work well in cloudy conditions.”

Funding for the project has been provided by the Victorian government and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena).

The team is now working on a solar spray coating.  

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  • Ken Linder

    Plastics are not a good base requirement for any new material.

    Current plastics :

    * contain volatile substances that are bad for living things
    * are creating an entirly new form of strata at the bottom of the sea
    * stretch across most of the Pacific from the US to Japan
    * cause and promote many cancers (including breast cancer)
    * in part because they are estrogenic hormone distuptors
    * which means they also cause carious reproductive and endocrine issues
    * they are made by one of the dirtiest industries on the planet
    * out of crude oil polymers, and we are going to run out of cheap oil

    So – here we have a “green tech” renewable energy revolution in our midst, on a poisoned and ailing planet. This solar energy choice is being made into a very dirty one, because it it heavily dependent on petrochemicals. It would be far better to place it onto the low cost hemp equivalent of graphine, or a ceramic.

  • Rob G

    It’s easy to see the potential, rather than re-skinning a building with panels you may be able to just paint it! The cost savings, time savings and possible safety advantages (panels or tiles on the side of a building could, though unlikely, fall off in strong winds) are clear.

  • Patrick Linsley

    “This is a big step forward because you can put these cells anywhere you can think of. Also the consistency is better than silicon – they work well in cloudy conditions.”
    This quote is critical. A good share of the nations (and states in the U.S) that have shown interest in solar energy are in northern, cloudy climes and this really blows a hole in the ‘well whut if it gets cloudy huh greenie?’ line of argument by a whole slew of stupid regressive people.