Australian-developed technology that allows solar cells to be printed and attached to most surfaces is almost ready for market, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has said.
CSIRO’s senior research scientist Dr Fiona Scholes said the technology a ‘solar ink’ designed to convert sunlight into electricity was approaching commercialization, 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.
A 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, to improve an efficiency that currently equates to 10 per cent of the level achieved by conventional silicon panels.
The printer deposits a fine layer of solar ink onto material, such as plastic, which can then be attached to a variety of surfaces or objects.
Semi-transparent for solar windows
For windows, the solar ink can achieve a semi-transparent effect, tinting 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 18 months.
According to Scholes, who heads 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," she added.
Dyesol has expressed interest
Scholes says several companies, including leading Australian solar dye cell manufacturer Dyesol, had expressed an interest in helping to commercialize 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 the Australian edition of English newspaper The Guardian.
"It would be wonderful if we could achieve a similar power delivery at a significantly reduced cost," she added. "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 Victoria state government and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena).
The team is now working on a solar spray coating.
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