In what could be considered as a major breakthrough for solar energy and its use in domestic circuits, a team of highly qualified scientists at the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) in Australia have developed a specialized solar printer that is capable of printing flexible A3 sized (paper size) photovoltaic solar cells.
The scientists in VICOSC worked in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Monash University, as well as with several industry partners to accomplish this exemplary feat.
The solar printer is capable of printing at least 10 meters of these flexile solar cells in a minute. Each solar cell is A3 sized which is almost 10 times larger than the size of the cells printed by previous machines.
The printed solar cells are also quite different than the traditional silicon based solar cells. Printed solar cells are employ the use of semi-conducting polymers which are dissolved in solvents to form a photovoltaic ink that can be used to print the cells.
The printing process of these cells is also different than the traditional methods of printing used for other photovoltaic cells in the past. Accordingly, the elaborate procedure is carried out with the help of a $200,000 printer that uses the photovoltaic ink mentioned above to screen print the solar cells in a process that resembles screen printing images on T-shirts.
The printed solar cells can produce a up to 50 watts of power for every square meter which means 2 m2 of these solar cells can easily act as a power source for a 15-inch MacBook Pro.
The flexibility of the solar cells also allows them to be directly printed on steel and other building materials, thereby increasing the possibility for these cells to be incorporated in windows (as laminates), roofs and other areas of a skyscraper.
The cells can also be used to power household lights, advertising signage and other interactive outdoor elements. They can also be used in laptop cases and mobile covers to act as a power backup for these devices.
Amidst all the celebrations, the scientists at VICOCS have started further processes in order to work out ways in which these photovoltaic solar cells can be manufactured with existing compounds and printing technologies in order to bring down the production cost of these cells by to a minimum without compromising on their efficiency (the cost of a single VICOCS printer happens to be $200,000!).
Fortunately, they can get plenty of help from the Clean Energy Project initiated by Harvard which aims at publishing a giant database consisting of almost 20,000 organic compounds that can be used in the production of the solar cells. The university plans to release this information by June this year.
Maybe this could provide an additional breakthrough for the scientists at VICOCS who could experiment with different printing models for these cells. Till then, the general public would have to wait for the day when they can print their own solar cells within the confines of their home.