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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Container Roll Out Solar System – Portable Solar

ARENA (the Australian Renewable Energy Agency) have awarded a grant to ECLIPS Engineering to design, manufacture, and test its ‘diesel killer’ portable solar offering, the Container Roll Out Solar System (CROSS). 

Container Roll Out Solar System – ECLIPS

Container Roll Out Solar System CROSS
Container Roll Out Solar System CROSS (source: eclips.engineering)

ECLIPS Engineering (formerly Sea Box International) are a Canberra based engineering firm hoping to do their part to help Australia do away with diesel generators in situations where a temporary power supply is required. They have created factory assembled 20 and 40 foot long solar panel arrays which fit in shipping containers and have minimal setup / teardown time. 

According to RenewEconomy, each 20ft unit has 2.1kW of power, and 7 of them can fit in a shipping container. The 40ft units has up to 4.3kW and can also fit seven to a container. 

ARENA have given CROSS $703,468 to to help the project, which has aims more lofty than just replacing diesel generators at work sites – the Container Roll Out Solar System could also help in defence situations, disaster recovery, for humanitarian needs, or for ‘temporary network augmentation’ (i.e. helping the grid if it’s malfunctioning or under severe stress).

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht spoke about funding the project, and how they hope to see an eventual replacement of diesel generators in 99% of cases:

“CROSS units can be deployed in off-grid and fringe-of-grid areas, displace or offset diesel consumption and improve the security of existing networks,” he said.

“These renewable options can reduce some of the barriers to entry for potential renewable power users in remote locations, including short project durations and where power systems need to be periodically relocated,” Frischknecht said.

“Renewable energy can provide an emissions-free, silent energy system that could replace diesel generators in the long run.”

We’ve already reported on the Maverick by 5B, which is another prefab, low-cost ground mounted solar array – it’s great to see some more options available to try and minimise the amount of diesel generators used as a temporary power supply. 

We’ll keep you posted how the project goes and what the next steps are!

 

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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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Inkjet Printed Solar Cells using Cyanobacteria

Inkjet printed solar cells could become a reality after researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Central Saint Martins used an inkjet printer to create tiny bio solar panels using cyanobacteria.

Inkjet Printed Solar Cells

As solar panel technology gets better and better, scientists have figured out a way to create a living ink which they then print on paper and use as bio-solar panels. Cyanobacteria, tiny creatures which use photosynthesis to turn solar light into energy (nature’s solar panels!) managed to survive a process where they’re printed onto electrically conductive carbon nanotubes, according to Futurism.com

Inkjet Printed Solar Cells
Inkjet Printed Solar Cells using Cyanobacteria (source: imperial.ac.uk)

Dr Marin Sawa from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Imperial College of London noted that although the inkjet printed solar cells may not be able to generate enough power to run an air conditioner, for example, there are myriad ways their low power production could improve quality of life:

“Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment” Dr. Sawa told the Imperial College website

This new type of renewable energy technology is called microbial biophotoltaics (BPV) and is being worked on by scientists across the globe.

Other things able to be powered by a panel approximately the size of an iPad could power a small LED light bulb or a digital clock. The low power output means they’re suitable for things that require small amounts of energy, such as biosensors or environmental sensors. Dr Andrea Fantuzzi noted that the BPV solution is very cost effective and could have some great implementations for healthcare:

“Paper-based BPVs integrated with printed electronics and biosensor technology could usher in an age of disposable paper-based sensors that monitor health indicators such as blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. Once a measurement is taken, the device could be easily disposed of with low environmental impact”

One of the best things about this is that these panels are completely biodegradable – which solves a long running problem of what to do with solar panels / storage after they’re past their ‘use-by date’. Very exciting tech (similar in a way to smart solar windows research) to ring in the new year which we’ll be sure to follow closely! 

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Butterfly Solar Cell Technology in Germany

Butterfly solar technology – Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have managed to double the amount of energy solar panels convert to energy by studying the nanostructures of black butterfly wings.

How does it work?

Radwan Siddique at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology was reading about butterfly wings whilst researching a technique for building 3d nanostructures. “I was so intrigued that I literally went to a lot of butterfly nurseries and gathered several butterflies,” Siddique told Seeker. “The black butterfly was one of them. I was putting them under SEM (a scanning electron microscope) and looking at the structures.” 

Although the openings on the black butterfly’s wings are less than a millionth of a metre wide, the latticed nanostructures they’re made of scatter light and are able to help the butterfly absorb more of the sun’s heat, helping the butterfly (a cold-blooded insect) regulate its body temperature and fly in cool weather. 

Butterfly Solar
Butterfly Solar – Scanning electron microscope image of bio-inspired nanoholes (source: seeker.com via Radwanul Siddique, KIT)

Butterfly Solar Cells – Production

According to Science Advances on October 18, when the findings were published, the “nanopatterned absorbers achieve a relative integrated absorption increase of 90% at a normal incident angle of light to as high as 200% at large incident angles, demonstrating the potential of black butterfly structures for light-harvesting purposes in thin-film solar cells.”

Siddique and his colleagues used a sheet of hydrogenated amorphous silicon in an attempt to copy the structure of the black butterfly wings. When they used a layer of polymer with circular indentations of different sizes, and transferred it to a silicon base, they were able to produce the solar power at a high efficiency using a thin film, as opposed to standard crystal based cells. Some potential uses for these thin-film solar cells could be the incorporation into solar windows or other structures that wouldn’t work well with the crystal-based solar cells. 

The cells are also quick and easy to create – “the way we produce the structure is so simple,” Siddique says, “We need just 5 minutes to 10 minutes to make the nanostructures on a six-inch wafer of silicon.” The butterfly creates these nanostructures by combining proteins to cause a chemical interaction. Siddique’s team created artificial versions of these proteins to manufacture their butterfly solar cells – which are cheap and scalable.

Still early days yet, but it’ll be exciting to see how ‘butterfly solar’ stacks up against other emerging solar tech such as perovskite solar cells

 

 

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Flisom’s Flexible, Thin & Customisable Solar Panels

PV Solar panel tech company Flisom AG has unveiled a range of new solar panels in Switzerland – they are 98% thinner and lighter than currently available conventional solar panels. The jet black modules are fully rollable and customisable and will be a fantastic choice for a range of applications where the old panels wouldn’t have been suitable. Although more expensive than mass produced panels, the solar panel technology and manufacturing process is improving rapidly and it’s really exciting to see these live in the market! 

About the Flisom Solar Panels

Flisom Thin Flexible Solar Panels
Flisom Thin Flexible Solar Panels

Flisom is located in Dübendorf, Switzerland, and was founded in 2005. The privately held company has been developing and manufacturing PV thin film solar cells for over 10 years now and are leaders in their field. Since 2013 they’ve been developing proprietary manufacturing equipment and components using a ‘roll to roll’ manufacturing process which replicates the CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide solar cell) solar tech on an industrial scale. This results in thin, flexible, highly efficient (up to 50x power to weight ratio compared with silicon PV) panels, even when compared with traditional crystalline silicon solar cells. 

Flisom, along with their research partner Empa, achieved a world-record efficiency of 20.4% in a flexible CIGS solar cell – they are pioneers in commercialising this technology which was previously far too expensive to be viable for business. 

According to Flisom the new panels can be as light as 160 grams per square metre, in comparison with standard solar panels which can be up to 15kg per square metre. They’re also ultra-thin (as in under 2mm per cell). 

Flisom CEO Rahul Budhwar said: “We’re also offering this technology as a platform, which means it can be customised for the needs of different applications and products so you can embed them or custom create this for exactly the way that application needs solar – rather than taking standard blocks of large panels.

We’ll keep an eye out to see some case studies of Flimsom solar panels out in the wild and be sure to kepe you updated on how they go! 

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Nano Light Detector technology to shrink panels

Scientists across America have developed a cutting edge nano light detector which is able to convert light to energy. They’ve achieved this by combining a unique method of fabrication (nanocavities) and reflection via light-trapping structures. This tech could have some amazing ramifications for solar panel technology as it means we could use a very thin material to do the same job as what is currently a quite bulky and obtrusive way of harvesting solar power.

Nano Light Detector

Nano Light Detector
Nano Light Detector (source: University of Buffalo)

Scientists have been working in labs worldwide with the aim of reducing the size and weight of a solar panel – there have been many recent developments such as the creation of perovskite solar cells, ‘smart’ solar windows, flexible screen printed solar panels, and so on. There has also been a lot of research into nanoscale tech – basically shrinking the materials to a smaller size, with the goal of making the whole process thinner and lighter.

Qiaoqiang Gan from the University of Buffalo (and one of the paper’s lead authors – click here to read the news release on the University of Buffalo website) was quoted as saying “We’ve created an exceptionally small and extraordinarily powerful device that converts light into energy.” Gan said the potential for the technology is exciting as a nano light detector could “produce everything from more efficient solar panels to more powerful optical fibers.” According to the University of Buffalo website, nanocavities are made up of an orderly series of tiny, interconnected molecules that essentially reflect, or circulate, light.

Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and also one of the lead authors, has been working on developing nanocavities which can increase the light that materials like germanium (thin semiconductors) can absorb. So the new device uses nanocavities in between a thin layer of germanium and a bottom of reflective silver.  According to Ma, by using this nanocavity technique, “the photons are ‘recycled’ so light absorption is substantially increased—even in very thin layers of material.” That means what we currently think of as a solar panel could be shrunk to a fraction of its current size whilst absorbing the same (or even more) solar energy.

If you’re interested in the hard science behind it, Science Mag has a link to the research article (you can read it by clicking here) – which is titled “Single-crystalline germanium nanomembrane photodetectors on foreign nanocavities.”

 

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Solar Cell Windows for sale in Asia

Some amazing technology out of Asia pioneered by Asahi Glass has windows with solar cells embedded in them being offered to the global market. These solar cell windows will be marketed to developers worldwide, with a focus on Australia and Oceania.

Asahi Glass Solar Cell Windows

This technology isn’t new (it has been offered to the Japanese market since 2000), but is experiencing a resurgence as Asahi are preparing the product for export. The windows will be offered for developers to implement as part of construction packages in order to help meet Asia’s rapidly growing renewable power needs.

The solar cell windows can generate 2-4 watt hours per square 15.6cm per side, depending on design. The plan is to sell Sunjoule to construction projects in Australia and the rest of Oceania – they’ve already installed in Cambodia, Singapore, and Hong Kong where they have set up shop to target European and US property developers who want to add unique and eco-friendly functionality to their building designs. They also plan to start producing these energy-conserving solar cell windows/glass in 2018 in Indonesia, according to Nikkei.com. Here’s an article from Inhabitat talking about the ‘nanosolar‘ thin and flexible solar cell coating which is utilised in the panels.

About Asahi

Asahi Glass Co Solar Cell Windows Australia
Asahi Glass Co Solar Cell Windows

Asahi are a global glass manufacturing company who offer myriad products such as heated windshields and 3d curved cover glass for car mounted displays. They turned over $12.8 billion USD in the 2013 financial year and have 51,500 consolidated employees so they are a major player in the industry. According to Wikipedia they are one of the largest flat glass producing companies in the world.

Asahi India Glass Ltd. (AIS) – who are an Indian affiliate of the company – also offer a mobile app called ‘AIS – World Of Glass’ for end users and partners to gain a deeper insight and experience into their portfolio of glass offerings. Click here for iOS and here for Android if you’d like to give it a try!  We’ll be interested to see how much the solar panel technology increases over the coming months and years and how Asahi are able to improve and enhance their offering – solar cell windows are a great innovation and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the technology is picked up worldwide and how competitors react to this product.

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