Printable solar cells on the way



printable solar cells

Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources Mr Peter Batchelor (left) and CSIRO's Future Manufacturing Flagship research leader Dr Gerry Wilson examining a trial print out of flexible organic solar cells.

Credit: CSIRO

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SYDNEY: Solar panels could soon be printed in the same way as bank notes, thanks to world-leading innovation by Australian scientists.

Researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium, which includes scientists from the CSIRO in Melbourne, The University of Melbourne and Monash University have developed a new technique that could open up the door for cheap, mass produced solar cells.

"These solar cells are cutting edge technology and offer advantages over traditional solar technology," Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources, Peter Batchelor said at the launch.

The new cells are printed onto a thin plastic which, unlike current silicon solar cells, is flexible and can easily be crafted to fit any rooftop. "The production of these film-like solar cells will be literally as easy as printing money," Batchelor said.

Gerry Wilson, a member of the team at CSIRO Future Manufacturing Flagship said mankind has been printing for centuries and this is only one of many potential applications for "printable electronics".

The active ingredient in the new solar cells is the thin-printed layers of light sensitive inks that absorb energy from the sun. Wilson explained that during the ongoing trial period these inks will be tested for maximum efficiency.

Currently, the printable solar cells are two to five per cent efficient, Wilson said, something they are trying to improve it "by tweaking the chemical structure" of the inks. Solar cells currently on the market range from five to 24 per cent efficiency.

CSIRO Executive Steve Morton believes the new cells are the next generation technology. "We have assembled a team of world-class scientists spanning chemistry, physics and materials science to develop the molecular building blocks which will form the basis of this solar energy revolution," he said.

Jai Singh, a physicist from Charles Darwin University, said that while the technology is still in its infancy, it could provide a cost effective alternative energy source.

"They are cost effective because the expensive Indium Tin Oxide used in traditional solar cells will be replaced by low cost functionalised graphene layers," he said.

The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr said the trial was an exciting development for the industry.

"This research is at the forefront of polymer technology, which has already brought to the world the banknotes used in Australia and 21 other countries. It is an important step in building up the solar industry in Australia," he said.

Andrew Blakers, Director of ARC Centre for Solar Energy Systems at Australian National University said any investment in the industry is always welcomed and will encourage progress in renewable energy sources.

"Australian solar industry needs to be encouraged and well funded in order for Australia to take its place as a world leader in this industry," he said.