Published on May 19th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


Printing Australia’s Largest Solar Cells

May 19th, 2013 by  

This article was originally published on the website of CSIRO.

Scientists have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in Australia – 10 times the size of what they were previously able to – thanks to a new solar cell printer that has been installed at CSIRO.

(L-R) Dr David Jones, Professor Andrew Holmes and Dr Scott Watkins.

(L-R) Dr David Jones, Professor Andrew Holmes and Dr Scott Watkins.

The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) – a collaboration between CSIRO, The University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners – to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.

According to CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins, printing cells on such a large scale opens up a huge range of possibilities for pilot applications.

“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.”

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells.

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells.

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.

VICOSC 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.

VICOSC’s new solar cell printer installed at CSIRO.

VICOSC’s new solar cell printer installed at CSIRO.

“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.

“The different types of cells capture light from different parts of the solar spectrum. So rather than being competing technologies, they are actually very complementary,” Dr Watkins says.

The scientists predict that the future energy mix for the world, including Australia, will rely on many non-traditional energy sources. “We need to be at the forefront of developing new technologies that match our solar endowment, stimulate our science and support local, high-tech manufacturing.

“While the consortium is focused on developing applications with current industrial partners there are opportunities to work with other companies through training programs or pilot-scale production trials,” he says.

As part of the consortium, a complementary screen printing line is also being installed at nearby Monash University. Combined, they will make the Clayton Manufacturing and Materials Precinct one of the largest organic solar cell printing facilities in the world.

The Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium is a research collaboration between CSIRO, The University of Melbourne, Monash University, BlueScope Steel, Robert Bosch SEA, Innovia Films and Innovia Security. It is supported by the Victorian State Government and the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

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  • Integrated into vehicles roofs, this could provide an inexpensive way to keep a battery maintained by trickle charging.

  • houhynhm

    Great. Advertising signage is the first use this guy can come up with when he describes his product.

  • Ronald Brak

    My friend’s friend works with Dr Watkins, which I guess is a mid-range level of Kevin Baconess. At least it’s not as much of a stretch as the fact that my friend’s mother’s friend’s mother was Winston Churchill’s cook.

  • mds

    Sounds like % efficiency is still pretty low. Is there a figure for this?

  • jburt56

    Wrap a house with it instead of Tyvek!!

    • mds

      Might not work well under the siding. Besides, tyvek allows water vapor to escape and this is plastic, you’d get mold, rot, and bugs. Sorry.

    • mds

      On top of the siding, with spacing between for moisture to escape, should work.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Sides of buildings isn’t a very workable installation unless someone solved the ‘angle of light strike’ problem.

      We track solar panels in order to keep them facing the Sun. The sides of buildings are going to fact the Sun for only short periods each day.

      Rooftops. Parking lots. Brownfields/landfills. That’s are where it’s going to be easiest/cheapest to harvest solar energy.

      • jburt56
      • Ronald Brak

        It’s not so bad under the right circumstances. In Helsinki optimally angled fixed solar panels will operate at 12.7% of capacity, while on a south facing wall they will operate at 10.2% of capacity. That’s 20% worse, but if the cells are cheap enough that’s not a big deal. In Brisbane on a west facing wall they would produce a bit less than half the electricity of optimally inclined north facing panels, but the value of that electricity would be high as its maximum output would be late in the afternoon when optimally inclined panels’ output is low and electricity prices are higher.

      • RobS

        As cells become cheaper and cheaper it becomes more cost effective just to blanket more area with them. When cells were $40 per watt you could justify a $5000 2 axis tracker to eek out every last watt of potential output, now that they’re $0.40 per watt you’re better to just cover every potential surface with them, roofs not facing the righ direction, walls etc. it’s more cost effective to buy extra cells then buy expensive equipment to maximise the output from cheap cells.

        • Bob_Wallace

          They aren’t yet 40 cents per watt and that’s not an installed price.

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