Sun Power: Printed Solar Cells Reach New Efficiency Heights

The successful commercialization of printed flexible solar cells holds the promise of substantial economic and environmental benefits, both domestically and globally.

In a monumental stride toward clean energy innovation, scientists from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, have spearheaded an international collaboration leading to a groundbreaking achievement in solar technology. Setting a new efficiency record for fully roll-to-roll printed solar cells, the team’s breakthrough promises to revolutionize the renewable energy landscape.

Printed onto thin plastic films, this cutting-edge solar technology offers unparalleled flexibility and portability, presenting a viable solution to meet the escalating demand for renewable energy sources.

Unlike conventional silicon solar panels, which are rigid and heavy, these printed solar cells open up a myriad of possibilities for deployment across diverse sectors, including urban construction, mining operations, emergency management, disaster relief, space exploration, defense, and personal electronics.

Dr. Anthony Chesman, CSIRO’s Renewable Energy Systems Group Leader, hailed the achievement as the culmination of over a decade of relentless research and development efforts.

“CSIRO’s thin and lightweight solar cells are poised to transition from laboratory prototypes to practical applications, ushering in a new era of clean energy production,” Dr. Chesman remarked. “Through innovative engineering solutions, we have achieved record-breaking results across a substantial surface area of interconnected modules.”

The utilization of roll-to-roll printing techniques facilitates the mass production of solar cells on continuous rolls of plastic, significantly enhancing production rates.

Dr. Chesman emphasized the accessibility of these manufacturing methods, particularly for Australian industries, leveraging existing practices in the printing industry. The successful commercialization of printed flexible solar cells holds the promise of substantial economic and environmental benefits, both domestically and globally.

This milestone was realized through collaborative efforts with researchers from esteemed institutions including the University of Cambridge, Monash University, the University of Sydney, and the University of New South Wales. The findings of the study have been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, underscoring its significance in the scientific community.

Dr. Doojin Vak, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO, highlighted the development of an automated system capable of generating comprehensive datasets, laying the groundwork for future research employing machine learning techniques.

“We have devised a system capable of rapidly producing and testing over ten thousand solar cells per day, a feat unattainable through manual methods,” Dr. Vak explained. “This enabled us to identify optimal parameters for the roll-to-roll process swiftly, optimizing conditions to achieve optimal results.”

Central to the breakthrough is the integration of an advanced material known as perovskite, distinguishing CSIRO’s printed solar cells from traditional silicon-based counterparts.

Dr. Vak elaborated on the remarkable properties of perovskites, which can be formulated into inks suitable for industrial printing processes. Moreover, the use of specialized carbon inks obviates the need for expensive metals like gold, further driving down production costs.

Although perovskite solar cells currently lag behind silicon panels in efficiency and longevity at scale production, Dr. Chesman emphasized the unique advantages of flexible panels. “The lightweight and flexible nature of our printed solar cells offer unparalleled versatility,” he noted. “While conventional silicon panels may pose challenges in transportation due to their rigidity and weight, our thin, lightweight solar cells can be effortlessly deployed wherever sunlight is available.”

In a testament to their durability and adaptability, CSIRO recently conducted tests on the performance of these solar panels in space, paving the way for optimized solutions to power future space missions. With an eye toward further development and commercialization, CSIRO actively seeks industry partners to leverage this transformative technology, accelerating its integration into mainstream energy solutions.

The achievement marks a significant milestone in the quest for sustainable energy solutions, underscoring the pivotal role of innovation and collaboration in addressing the pressing challenges of climate change and energy sustainability. As the world looks toward a future powered by renewable energy, CSIRO’s breakthrough sets a promising precedent for a cleaner, greener tomorrow.