3D-printed solar cells are cheaper, easier to produce, and deployable at speed

99 percent of the panels were made of PET.
Nergis Firtina
Solar panels during mass production process.

University of New Castle/Australia 

Do you remember the solar panels that Prof. Paul Dastoor from the University of New Castle and his team produced with a 3D printer? If you don't, it's an evergreen story worth remembering. Let's dive in...

3D printing is a major asset for the energy industry. Four years ago, light-weight, ultra-flexible, recyclable, and inexpensive solar panels came to light by Dastoor and his team.

The University of Newcastle was one of only three sites in the world testing printed solar, which used electronic inks to conduct electricity.

"It's completely different from a traditional solar cell. They tend to be large, heavy, encased in glass -- tens of millimeters thick," Dastoor told Mashable. "We're printing them on plastic film that's less than 0.1 of a millimeter thick."

Solar panels on the street

First, some of these solar panels were installed in the city to increase their visibility and awareness by the public.

“Globally, there’s been so few of these installations, we know very little about how they perform in a public setting. This installation is the next critical step in accelerating the development and commercialization of this technology. It presents a new scenario for us to test performance and durability against a range of new challenges,” said Professor Dastoor in a release in 2018.

They were planning to represent significant progress toward commercial availability of the material for 3D printed solar panels.

3D-printed solar cells are cheaper, easier to produce, and deployable at speed
Love Cone was the only public place that solar panels could be viewed.

What were the benefits?

When the year 2019 arrived, the project began to take a "real" shape.

With commercial-scale machinery capable of manufacturing kilometers of material each day, printed solar was quick and inexpensive to generate, with a production cost of less than $10 per square meter.

“No other renewal energy technology can be manufactured as quickly. The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed are exciting as we need to find solutions, and quickly,” said Professor Dastoor.

With over 99 percent of the panels made of PET, the material was recyclable, giving it a distinct advantage over traditional silicon panels.

“This is the first commercial uptake of printed solar in Australia, most likely the world,” said Dastoor. “It’s a historic step in the evolution of this technology and another example of private enterprise and community leading the charge in the adoption of renewables."

What awaits us in the future?

Prof. Paul Dastoor claimed that printed solar technology could be developed shortly to fit almost any surface to power urban lighting, roadside water pumps, disaster shelters, caravans, and camping equipment, and be installed on anything from smart blinds for residential buildings to floating covers for dams and pools, greenhouse covers, or even yacht sails.

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