- Professor Paul Dastoor, a physicist from University of Newcastle in Australia has come up with commercially viable printed solar panels.
- The process, coined ‘functional printing’, is completed in-house on a lab-scale printer at the University of Newcastle’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) facility.
- The printed panels eliminate the use of glass and aluminium framing plus all materials are recyclable for re-manufacture.
Created by University of Newcastle Physicist, Professor Paul Dastoor, organic printed solar cells are electronic inks printed onto sub-millimetre thin plastic sheets using conventional printers. CHEP, a Brambles company, has become their historic first commercial partner helping to explore the potential of the technology.
“This is the first commercial uptake of printed solar in Australia, most likely the world. It’s an historic step in the evolution of this technology and another example of private enterprise and community leading the charge in the adoption of renewables,” Professor Dastoor said.
The commercial-scale installation on CHEP’s Beresfield pallet repair facility is the final stop before the technology becomes widely available.“Our printed solar cells are now considered to be at the ‘top of the technology readiness tree’.
“Those working in technology development use a NASA developed Technology Readiness Level or ‘TRL’ system to determine how evolved our solutions are, with 1 being the lowest and 9 the highest. We are now rated TRL 8 and essentially considered ‘green lit’.”
How it Works and Advantages
Printed solar is an ultra-lightweight, laminate material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet. The material delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.
The process, coined ‘functional printing’, is completed in-house on a lab-scale printer at the University of Newcastle’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) facility.
“On the University’s lab-scale printer, hundreds of metres of material can be produced per day, however upgrading production to a commercial-scale printer would increase this output to kilometres. No other renewal energy technology can be manufactured as quickly.
“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.
Incredibly simple and fast to install, 640 m of material were installed at the CHEP site by a team of 5 in just one day. So lightweight, the material is secured using standard double sided tape.
“Not only are printed solar cells approximately 300 times lighter than traditional cells, silicon isn’t a practical solution for roofs needing repair or replacing. Many roofs just aren’t capable of supporting the weight of the amount of silicon panels required to meet their energy demands,” he said.
Disrupting the Energy Marketplace
“One of the most common questions I’m asked is when will people be able to buy this on shelves at Bunnings,” Professor Dastoor said.
Unlike most centralised or de-centralised energy infrastructure, which requires a substantial upfront investment, printed solar might resemble something more akin to a mobile phone plan.
“In future, we expect users might sign onto this energy solution in a similar way to a mobile phone plan, where you determine your usage requirements, pay a monthly service fee, but never need to ‘own’ the infrastructure. The service provider installs and upgrades your service for you as the technology continues to develop.
“This is quite a step change in how we’ll think about energy provision and energy markets in the near future,” Professor Dastoor said.
Going forward the the team will remove the installation and investigate the best method for recycling the material.“My goal is to completely recycle the old material and use that resource to manufacture new solar cells,” Professor Dastoor said.
Author: Bryan Groenendaal