Printable Solar Panels / Cells – A Primer.

Printable Solar Panels – at some point it may be possible to use a simple desktop inkjet printer to print your own solar cells. We’re a while off that yet, but with great advancements in the technology over the last couple of years, let’s take a look at what the future holds for printed solar cells!

Printable Solar Panels

Printable Solar Panels - University of Newcastle
Printed Solar Cells – University of Newcastle (source: abc.net.au via University of Newcastle)

We wrote last week about the University of Newcastle and their foray into printed solar cells – today we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into the situation and see where we can expect this technology to go in the next few years. 

The University of Newcastle are reporting that their latest tests in Newcastle brings them “about two years” away from launching their product onto the commercial solar market. Leading the charge has been University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor, who created the electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels.

The process is According to the ABC, semi-conducting ink is printed on a transparent plastic sheet for the first layer, and then layers are printed on top of the other, until the cells are about 200 microns thick. For reference, human hair is around 50 microns. After that, a “top contact layer” is done again, reel-to-reel, using a technique known as sputter coating, according to Professor Dastoor.

They estimate the cost of their modules at less than $10 per square metre which is extremely cheap – the main problems are the efficiency of the printed solar panels and ensuring there’s enough space for them as it’ll take quite a lot of room on a roof. They use a lot of plastic to manufacture as well so looking at ways to recycle the waste of printed solar cells is extremely important. For that reason, in six months Professor Dastoor and his team will pull the printed solar cells off the Melbourne roof they’re currently on and investigate ways to minimise environmental waste. 

 

 

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Printed Solar Cells | University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has been able to deliver printed solar cells at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre. They are now powering a Newcastle business and showing results in the wild. Amazing steps forward for solar technology, and in our own backyard! How long until we can print solar cells at home using inkjet printers?

Printed Solar Cells – Breakthrough Technology

University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor has created electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels – offering “unprecedented affordability” and could help solve the energy crises in New South Wales and Australia-wide.

“We are changing the climate, we know it’s because burning fossil fuels and we have to shift to renewables, even if leaders in Canberra can’t understand that,” he told AAP via the Bega District News.

“This technology has the potential to be enormously scalable … it’s fast, it’s low cost and doesn’t require anything special.”

The team are able to print hundreds of metres of solar cells at the Centre of Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle. If a commercial scale printer were obtained, this could easily be upgraded to kilometres of cells. 

“The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting as we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on base-load power – a renewed concern as we approach another summer here in Australia,” Professor Dastoor said.

 
Printed Solar Cells via Paul Dastoor
Printed Solar Cells via Paul Dastoor of University of Newcastle (source: newcastle.edu.au)

Around 200 square metres of the printed solar panels has been installed at an industrial site owned by logistics company CHEP in Beresfield, near Newcastle.

This is a fantastic step forwards for solar panel technology People who are wanting to install solar into a rental property or those who don’t have access to a roof (apartment solar) will be licking their lips at the possibility. 

According to Wikipedia, these printed solar cells have a few main drawbacks:

  1. The efficiency of inket solar cells is “too low to be commercially viable” 
  2. Indium is a rare material and could be gone in 15 years.
  3. The ink needs to be weather resistant and can survive harsh conditions.

It looks like the efficiency of Dr Dastoor’s printed solar panels is around 2-3%, but at only A$10 per square metre when manufactured at scale, it looks like these modules are certainly commercially viable, even if they’re not the most efficient cells in the world. 

In six months they will remove the test panels from the CHEP roof and have a look at recycling the material. Professor Dastoor and his team will also run some statistics on how well the printed solar was able to perform. We’ll keep you updated! 

If you want to learn more about flexible solar panel tech, please click here

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Solar Tarp – foldable, portable solar power.

California based Lipomi Research Group are working on creating a solar tarp – which would have myriad uses for society. Let’s learn more about how these upgraded solar panels could help parts of the world where they don’t have access to regular electricity – and some of the technological challenges they’re facing trying to complete the project.

About the Solar Tarp technology

Prototype Solar Tarp Sample - University of California
Prototype Solar Tarp Sample – University of California (source: theconversation.com)

The Lipomi Research Group are focused on “identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not”.  They’ve been tinkering with perovskite solar cells, which are 1/1000 the thickness of a silicon layer in a solar panel. 

Darren Lipomi of the Lipomi Group, who is also a Professor of Nanoengineering at the University of California, said that their goal is to create flexible solar panels which are as efficient as conventional silicon but don’t have some of the drawbacks of it.

The goal is to develop flexible solar panels which are thin, lightweight, and bendable. Lipomi is calling their idea a ‘solar tarp’ – which refers to a solar panel which can be expanded to the ‘size of a room’, but balled up to the size of a grapefruit when not in use. The issues here are finding a molecular structure to make the solar panels stretchable and tough – this involves replacing the silicon semiconductors with materials such as perovskite. 

They’re also taking a look at polymer semiconductors / organic semiconductors (based on carbon, and used in place of perovskites or silicon in a solar cell). These aren’t as efficient, but are far more flexible and extremely durable.

According to The Conversation, the sunlight that hits the earth in a single hour contains more energy than the whole planet uses in an entire year – so there’s plenty more work to do on improving how we utilise the sun! We’ll keep an eye on the solar tarp project and let you know when it reaches the next stage.

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Perovskite Degradation – Major Breakthrough

Scientists the world over have been trying to create inexpensive, highly efficient solar cells out of perovskite, and this week some new research has come out which moves us another step in that direction. Perovskite degradation occurs rapidly when the naturally occurring mineral exposed to ambient air, which is quite the issue for a solar cell. According to the NREL team,Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have manufactured an environmentally stable, high-efficiency perovskite solar cell. Another step closer to commercial sale of perovskite solar cells!

Perovskite Degradation and the NREL Research

Perovskite Degradation
Perovskite Degradation (source: wikipedia.org)

CleanTechnica have written an article about the NREL Research on perovskite deterioration in ambient air and are reporting that the research team have successfully tested a perovskite solar cell in ambient conditions with no protection for 1,000 hours – with a fantastic result that 94% of conversion efficiency was retained.

The scope of the research is a little over our head, but if you’re interested in learning more about the study “Tailored Interfaces of Unencapsulated Perovskite Solar Cells for >1000 Hours of Ambient Operational Stability you can click the link to read about it via Nature magazine. 

In simplest form, previous methods of protecting the perovskite have focused on creating a protective enclosure around the solar cell. Instead of that, they focused on the ‘weakest link’ in a perovskite solar cell and replaced it with a different molecule.

“Each interface and contact layer throughout the device stack plays an important role in the overall stability which, when appropriately modified, yields devices in which both the initial rapid decay (often termed burn-in) and the gradual slower decay are suppressed.”

Perovskite research is moving along at a fantastic clip. Here are some other updates on this technology we’re really excited about:

 

 

 

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JA Solar Cells – 60-cell modules exceed 325MW

China-based JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd., announced that their 60-cell PV modules (assembled by moni-Si PERC cells) have exceeded 325W (326.67W, certified by TÜV SÜD), which is a new world record for that type of solar panel. 

“Setting a new world record of over 325W output power from a 60-cell mono-Si PV module is remarkable achievement enabled by PERC technology,” said Dr. Wei Shan, Chief Technology Officer of JA Solar.

PERC Solar Cells

JA Solar Cells - 60 Cell PERC 325MW
JA Solar Cells – 60 Cell PERC 325MW (source: au.jasolar.com)

The average power output of JA’s 60 cell PV modules using moni-Si PERC is currently 300W, so it’s great to see them advance the technology further – they’ve been working with PERC cells for a long time and are one of the market leaders in research and manufacture of these solar modules. 

JA Solar filed an invention application in 2010 for its industrial PERC cell structure and method of production, according to RenewEconomy. In 2013 they were the first company to break 20% sunlight-energy conversion efficiency by using a screen-printing metallization process – starting commercial production of the modules in 2014

PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell or Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact) technology is able to increase efficiency by allowing electrons to flow more freely.It also makes the back of solar cells more reflective, increasing efficiency again.

This is another small but significant step forward for solar panel technology, which is starting to look for alternatives to the conventional silicon cell, such as perovskite

About JA Solar 

JA Solar panels are a popular ‘tier 1’ solar panel in Australia as they are reasonably priced and perform well over a long period. They’re certainly not the most expensive panels out there and in terms of bang for buck, we are happy to recommend them to those considering installing a solar system in Australia. 

JA Solar recently won a contract to supply 50MW(AC) of modules for Malaysia’s first utility-scale solar project in Sabah. Mr Cao Bo, JA’s Vice President, said that

 “We are excited to partner with one of our largest customers, SPIC, again in an overseas market. We believe this win demonstrates our value proposition and technical innovation with high-performance solar modules. We have invested USD163 million in our Penang, Malaysia manufacturing operation to produce poly and mono cells with the annual capacity of 1000MW. From the China-Malaysia relationship standpoint, investing in manufacturing facilities and sharing our technical expertise in Malaysia, a rapidly growing market, remains our top priority. Additionally, we look forward to serving our global partners and customers by providing the highest-quality solar products and services.”

 

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Silicon Alternative for Solar Cells

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and MIT, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Colorado School of Mines in the USA have been hard at work coming up with a silicon alternative for solar cells – given that silicon needs to have extremely high levels of purity and as such is very energy intensive to produce. After looking at options such as perovskite solar cells, the team have been using the “green element”, bismuth, in tests to create a low-cost solar cell.

Silicon Alternative for Solar Cells  – Research

The vast majority of solar cells we see on rooftops or as part of solar farms are created from silicon – a very efficient element in terms of its ability to convert light into energy, but also, as mentioned, expensive (and energy intensive) to produce.

There has been a lot of research on perovskite solar cells as a possible alternative, which we have reported on previously. Since lead is an integral part of the perovskite cell’s chemical structure, there’s still a search for a cheap, non-toxic material to create these cells – enter Bismuth.

Bismuth - A Silicon Alternative for Solar Cells
Bismuth – A Silicon Alternative for Solar Cells (source: Steve Penny, University of Cambridge via ScienceDaily.com)

According to ScienceDaily, Bismuth is a heavy metal like lead, but it is non toxic. Previous tests of Bismuth oxyiodide indicated that its efficiency may be too low for solar and it was also easily degraded in liquid electrolytes. However, further research has shown it may in fact be a suitable replacement for silicon in that it’s inexpensive to produce, can be very efficient in converting light into energy, and is eco-friendly.

“Bismuth oxyiodide has all the right physical property attributes for new, highly efficient light absorbers,” said co-author Professor Judith Driscoll, of the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. “I first thought of this compound around five years ago, but it took the highly specialised experimental and theoretical skills of a large team for us to prove that this material has real practical potential.”

We’ll see how this exciting research progresses – but in the meantime if you want to read about the study in detail you can find this journal: Strongly Enhanced Photovoltaic Performance and Defect Physics of Air-Stable Bismuth Oxyiodide (BiOI)Advanced Materials, 2017; 1702176 DOI

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