Australian scientists have found a way to print large but extremely lightweight and flexible solar panels like money.
World-leading scientists at the CSIRO said the A3-sized panels, which are created by laying a liquid photovoltaic ink onto thin, flexible plastic could soon mean everyone has the ability to print their own solar panels at home.
“It would definitely be feasible to do that,” said CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins.
It comes as scientists around the world continue to develop 3D printing – a method of making three-dimensional objects using a digital design.
The potentially revolutionary method could be used to make just about any object from scratch.
Experts from the University of Wollongong and Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital are already testing the idea of printing human body parts, such as replacement organs and tissues.
“In the future, these sorts of devices will be able to recreate parts of people’s joints and bones, conceivably, in the future, even organs,” Professor Mark Cook told the ABC recently.
CSIRO’s solar panels, which have been in development for five years with a team of experts at Monash and Melbourne universities, are attracting interest from big companies that see a wide range of applications.
Near-term uses include putting the panels, similar in feel to a glossy magazine page, onto laptops or mobile phones – offering an extra hour of power once the inbuilt battery dies.
They could also be printed on to skyscraper windows or roofs.
“We’re actively talking to a Victorian company at the moment about incorporating them into windows,” Dr Watkins added.
The ability to print solar panels is not new in itself – but what is new is the ability to make them as large and powerful as the Australian version.
At the moment, the 30 centimetre-wide panels generate between 10 to 50 watts of power per square metre and have been proven to last at least six months.
But that lifetime and wattage will be boosted in the future and the printers needed to make the panels far smaller, Dr Watkins said.