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Australian scientists print large, flexible solar cells

A team of Australian scientists have made the largest plastic, flexible solar cells ever produced in the country.

At the size of an A3 sheet of paper (11.7 x 16.5 inches), the cell is 10 times the size of what they had previously made, thanks to a new solar cell printer worth $200,000.

It’s a project from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) – a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), The University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners.

“There are so many things we can do with cells this size,” said Dr Scott Watkins, one of the lead researchers on the program.

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells. Credit: CSIRO

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells. Credit: CSIRO

“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 basically prints photovoltaic ink onto super-thin materials like plastic or steel, creating flexible and lightweight solar panels. Just three years ago, the team was printing cells only about 4 inches wide, so this new technology represents a huge jump in their printing capabilities.

“Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers. By printing directly to materials like steel, we’ll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials,” said Dr David Jones, VICOSC project coordinator.

The cells produce 10-50 watts of power per square meter (over 10 square feet), and so far they have been able to last for over six months in an outdoor environment.

With some more work, the team at VICOSC predict that the cells will be able to function for several years, at a price of around $1 per watt.


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