Reduced-Cost Solar Cells: Production by Traditional Inkjet Printing

A two-in-one, solar, bio-battery and solar panel combination has been created by printing circuiting and live cyanobacteria on paper.

Organic printed solar cells on sub-millimetre thin plastic sheets being installed at the pilot project. Photograph: Newcastle University

These are the lightweight, flexible cells that are easily applied to any item that can be carried around and help in charging devices like cell phones, tablets, laptops and more. These would easily be included in wireless headphones and can be carried around anywhere to collect solar power throughout the day along all journeys. And even better, these solar cells would be self-printable.

While solar cells have been in research and development stages for years now, there is a great advancement that is currently being made. Dating as far back as 2014 in Australia, the printable solar cell was in progress, with the ability to create individual solar cells from an inkjet printer.

All this would take is the use of electronic inks in the printer, then being printed on plastic sheets that are less than a millimeter thick. This apparently has the potential of further explosion of solar cells in the renewable market, especially with the affordability and efficiency of this production method.

Solar cell printing was originally developed by Professor Paul Dastoor at the University of Newcastle in May of 2017, now leading to the printing of organic solar cells via traditional printers. With use of electronic links, these are printed onto those extremely thin plastic sheets, reducing cost of solar cells to under $10 per square meter. Only a few people would be needed to create these panels daily. With all the research that was done last year, the 6-month pilot project began in Australia. With this first commercial application of solar panel printing, the technology has the opportunity to be proven efficient worldwide and enter the retail market within the next few years.

Energy Development in the Printed Solar Cells

A two-in-one, solar, bio-battery and solar panel combination has been created by printing circuiting and live cyanobacteria on paper. Scientists at Imperial College London, University of Cambridge and Central Saint Martins recently completed this advancement. Cyanobacteria are microorganisms that gain energy from photosynthesis, along with producing oxygen. Possibly, dating millions of years in history, these cyanobacteria were part of the Great Oxygenation Event where the earth’s environment was transferred to the oxygen-rich space of today.

Power of photosynthesis within the cyanobacteria can be collected to create bio-solar cells, printed on various materials to generate power. Called bio photovoltaics, these solar cells work by putting the cyanobacteria into an anode in a chamber. The anode and the cathode, along with two electrodes work like a battery. However, they are separated by a membrane that lets only protons to pass through. The anode side contains water with electrodes connected by an exterior circuit, while there is also a chamber on the cathode side. So, the photosynthesis of the cyanobacteria producing electrons, protons and oxygen in the anode chamber. The oxygen is then released into the cathode chamber. With this back-and-forth passing of oxygen, protons are also sent through the membrane and enter the cathode chamber. Because electrons are unable to pass through the membrane they travel alongside the outside circuit to combine again with the proton and oxygen. Therefore, the end result is water made in the cathode chamber. With the movement of electrons recognized as the same as a current from a battery, it is able to develop electricity.

Additionally, researchers have shown that cyanobacteria can be made into ink (consider the cyan or “blue” ink of the traditional inkjet printer) and printed onto pieces of paper or even plastic. The printing process does not appear to harm the cyanobacteria and their photosynthesis, allowing thin solar cells to be produced in this low-cost manner.

This would be a bio-solar panel, even more eco-friendly and possibly up to about the size of an iPad with the ability to power basic items like digital clocks or other low-power, small household appliances. This is also similar to the plastic solar cells that have been generated over the past few years and reported to generate power in the level of charging cell phone and tablet batteries, along with powering other small items that are usually plugged into wall outlets.

Further History of Solar Cell Development

Even as far back as 2007, Australian scientists from the natural science agency, CSIRO, along with universities in Melbourne and Monash, have been working on development of solar-powered cells. With so much advanced research and development of this technology, there is much to see in the near future of cost-efficient and energy-saving power to be gained from these solar cells.

This Australian center has proposed that even the simplest items, like cases and bags, iPhone skins, and more, will all be able to power our electronics rather than just case them. From this point it is incredible to know that the power gridlock will be transportable in the future, along with increased affordability. Further advancement printable solar cell technology may grow endlessly in the future, including lower production cost, making them easier to develop, sell and use. The solar cell market will not only open up but will be able to boom incredibly upon finalization of integration to products.

CSIRO has reported that printable solar cells could be integrated into more than device cases themselves, but also into consumer product packaging, windows, and much more. It has been discussed that products like those used for camping would be worthy of having these solar cells included in their packaging or material itself to provide solar power on site.

With the solar printing process originally developed in 2011, there has been much gained over the past seven years. Solar cells have been printed on plastic, by commercial printers and even in open air. Printable solar cells originally were meant to add various appearance to panels, with the ability to build power in low light and indoors. Traditional sources of electricity were intended to be eventually removed, with the goal of organic and printed cells to be placed directly onto materials like roofing and windows, aiding in the power supply of financially challenged regions.



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