Melbourne researchers have successfully created Australia’s largest and most flexible solar cells, with the aid of a new printer located at CSIRO. The scientists are part of a collaboration between research and industry partners called the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC). This was achieved through the collaboration between The University of Melbourne and the Bio21 Institute, CSIRO, Monash University and industry partners including Bluescope Steel and security printing firm Innovia Security. In just three years the consortium has gone from making cells the size of a fingernail, to cells 10 centimetres square. They are now able to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.
The consortium is now leading the world in the ability to print solar cells and using different printing technologies, but this is the beginning of the story. We’re still developing the technologies, still developing the materials to enable us to print in a number of different ways for different applications. The new printer can roll out 10 metres of solar cells per minute, which is equivalent to producing one cell every two seconds. Using semiconducting inks, the researchers print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. So what we’re looking at is, how can we use this technology in the short term, how can we print solar cells to enable advertising, can we put solar cells on to advertising material in shopping centres to drive an active display.
So if somebody wants to advertise something with nice flashing lights then at the moment they drive that with batteries. In the longer term we see these materials being able to be coated on to buildings, into windows and on roofs to provide power in a wide variety of locations and circumstances. As part of the consortium, graduate students working alongside scientists are involved in training and development programs to improve the technology in the long term. We’re now right up there with the rest of the people in the world but we’ve also got a facility which is different. We now have a process through our collaboration where we take things from the very very beginning, from designing materials, from making devices in the lab scale right through the large scale printing, which is very very unusual in the world context.
What we are doing truly is additive manufacturing. We’re taking simple substrates such as plastic or steel and coating them and turning them into solar cells. This is what a factory of the future looks like and it’s based here in Melbourne’s emerging manufacturing precinct. Moving forward, Australia will potentially be one of the largest organic solar cell printing facilities in the world. .