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Developments in solar cell printing technology

17th May 2013

May has been quite the month for solar cell technology in our nation, with a number of promising developments being made.

Recently a group of solar engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found a way to improve the quality of low-grade silicon, improving its electric efficiency and in turn having the potential to lower the cost of a solar panel system.

Now, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cell in Australia - 10 times the size of previous models - all due to a new solar cell printer.

Researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) - a collaboration between CSIRO, The University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners - have worked with this printer, which has made it possible for organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper to be produced.

"There are so many things we can do with cells this size," said CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins.

"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 printer is worth $200,000 and has catapulted the size of the cells the team makes from 10cm square to cells which are 30cm wide.

CSIRO describes the process in which the solar cells are made with the printer. They begin using semiconducting inks, and then "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".

The organic photovoltaic cells produce 10-50 watts of power per square meter, and could help to improve the efficiency of silicon solar panels, much like UNSW's developments.

This method of making solar cells is extremely new and pioneering, and therefore places CSIRO's team at the forefront of solar innovation.

John J Licata, writing for The Guardian UK on February 22 of this year, commented that 3D solar printing could revolutionise the solar power industry by making solar power even more sustainable, cost effective and accessible.

With solar technology innovations coming in thick and fast and ever-evolving, it seems that such predictions are right, and solar power is headed for even greater things.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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