Scientists have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in Australia—10 times the size of previous materials—thanks to a new solar cell printer installed at Australian research institution CSIRO. The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.
CSIRO materials scientist Dr. Scott Watkins says that 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,” Watkins 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 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. With the new printer they have jumped to cells that are 30cm wide.
According to Dr. David Jones, VICOSC project coordinator, 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 onto a T-shirt,” Jones 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 meters 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,” 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 meter, 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,” Watkins 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.