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CSIRO machine prints Australia's largest solar cell

17 May 2013

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A new solar cell printer installed at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia has been able to produce the largest flexible, plastic solar cell in the country.

The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.

According to CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins, printing cells on such a large scale opens up a huge range of possibilities for pilot applications.


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Figure 1: Dr. Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells.


The new printer, worth $198,000, is a big step up for the VICOSC team. In just three years they have gone from making cells the size of a fingernail to cells 10cm square. Now with the new printer they have jumped to cells that are 30cm wide.

VICOSC project coordinator and University of Melbourne researcher Dr David Jones says that one of the great advantages of the group's approach is that they're using existing printing techniques, making it a very accessible technology.

"We're using the same techniques that you would use if you were screen printing an image on to a T-Shirt," he says.

Using semiconducting inks, the researchers print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. With the ability to print at speeds of up to ten metres per minute, this means they can produce one cell every two seconds.

As the researchers continue to scale up their equipment, the possibilities will become even greater.

The organic photovoltaic cells, which produce 10W to 50W of power per square metre, could even be used to improve the efficiency of more traditional silicon solar panels.

"The different types of cells capture light from different parts of the solar spectrum. So rather than being competing technologies, they are actually very complementary," Dr Watkins says.


CSIRO solar cell printer

Figure 2: VICOSC’s new solar cell printer installed at CSIRO.


The scientists predict that the future energy mix for the world, including Australia, will rely on many non-traditional energy sources. "We need to be at the forefront of developing new technologies that match our solar endowment, stimulate our science and support local, high-tech manufacturing.

As part of the consortium, a complementary screen printing line is also being installed at nearby Monash University. Combined, they will make the Clayton Manufacturing and Materials Precinct one of the largest organic solar cell printing facilities in the world.




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