Australia, Solar, Solar

Flexible and printed: CSIRO’s solar breakthrough

Australian researchers have achieved a major milestone in the quest to make flexible printed solar cells commercially viable.

A team led by CSIRO scientists has developed a new roll-to-roll printing method that produced flexible solar panels with an unprecedented 11 per cent energy efficiency over 50 square centimetres.

Traditional rigid silicon solar panels have long been the workhorse of renewable energy. However, printed solar cells made from perovskites – a new class of light-absorbing materials that can be formulated into inks – offer potential for cheaper, more energy-efficient, lightweight and flexible solar solutions.

“Where traditional silicon solar panels are rigid and heavy, our printed solar cells are highly flexible and portable, and can be used in previously unimaginable ways,” said CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr. Doojin Vak, lead author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Scaling up the printing process while maintaining efficiency has proved challenging, with most printed flexible solar panels achieving only 1-2 per cent efficiency at larger scales. The CSIRO team’s 11 per cent efficiency for 50cm2 panels is a major breakthrough that paves the way for commercial manufacturing.

The key was an automated system that could rapidly produce and test over 10,000 different printed solar cells per day – far beyond manual techniques. This allowed researchers to quickly optimise various parameters and unlock the technology’s full potential.

“Perovskite may offer a cheaper and more energy-efficient alternative to silicon solar cells. It is lightweight, flexible, portable for powering devices, and incredibly versatile,” Dr. Mei Gao, who leads CSIRO’s Printable Photovoltaics team, said.

In addition to its commercial prospects, the printed solar cell technology could drive sustainable energy solutions with a low environmental impact.

The Perovskite inks don’t require expensive metals like gold, lowering manufacturing costs. The panels’ shorter energy payback time compared to silicon makes them an economically and environmentally attractive renewable option.

CSIRO said it is now actively seeking industry partners to further scale up and commercialise the fully roll-to-roll printed solar cell technology, which could power applications from buildings and vehicles to wearable electronics.

The breakthrough is the culmination of over a decade of research and development investment by the national science agency.

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