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Australian Physicist Pioneers Printable Solar Cells


One year ago, Austrailian Physicist and University of Newcastle professor Paul Dastoor powered several screens and displays at a convention using organic printed solar cells. Just this month, Dastoor began the first commercial application of printable solar cells in Australia. He and five others successfully installed a 200 square-meter pilot project at Newcastle University.

This occasion marks one of the final steps in a long journey towards creating affordable, accessible renewable energy. While this pilot project is only intended to last six months, the results should hopefully spark more widespread use of Dastoor’s printable solar cells.

Professor Dastoor began experimenting with semiconducting polymers in the 1990s. He found a way to break down the particles of these plastics and suspend them in water. This discovery eventually led to the idea of an energy-conducting paint or ink.

Dastoor and his team create solar solutions by dissolving soluble semiconducting materials into ink. This solution is then printed, painted, or sprayed onto a variety of surfaces, converting them into energy-conductors. The idea, according to Professor Dastoor, is to ” turn our homes, cars and appliances into solar power stations.”

For the pilot project, Dastoor’s team printed over 200 square meters of solar cells in a single day. Dastoor admits his printable solar cells are not yet as energy-efficient, nor are they as durable, as the current silicon-based solar cells used in the commercial market. However, the low cost and speed of production make this energy solution a viable one for the future of renewable energy.

The Hard Sell on Solar Cells

The Center of Organic Electronics’ process already allows them to print hundreds of meters of solar cells per day. Even though these thin, candy-wrapper-like solar cells degrade faster than silicon-based ones, the material cost is far cheaper as well. At an estimated 1/10th the price, the technology is only expected to improve as the industry grows.

“The question is how much does energy cost?” says Professor Dastoor. “These materials are so cheap to make, manufacture and install that when you calculate the total cost of energy when manufacturing at scale, it’s going to give you a competitive product.”

Dastoor compares the current industry climate for renewable energy to that of the mobile phone industry. The technology is expected to increase rapidly, making the concept of “energy plans” a simple solution to an ever-growing market.

Renewable energy companies would offer these plans, as Dastoor sees it, as a system of constant upgrades and replacements. Similar to many packages offered by mobile phone and data companies, as the technology improves, so do the plans. The Center of Organic Electronics recently manufactured the highest-performing solar paint cells in history, which produce at lower light levels than the current silicon-based counterpart.

“The cost to produce it is so low and to roll out another set of solar cells is going to be extremely easy.” Professor Dastoor points out that the sun provides us with “many times” the energy that we need each day. We just don’t harness it. The solar paint technology allows this to be possible.

“I think over time our current picture of how we view solar energy and cells is going to fundamentally change.”

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