Innovative University of Newcastle printed solar panels move through successful Brambles trial 

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Organic PV (OPV) developers continue to advocate for the technology, due to its very low production costs and flexibility, in terms of applications. A team from the University of Newcastle, sees opportunities to apply its OPV flexible modules in an extremely wide range of applications.

The technology, according to Professor Paul Dastoor of the Centre of Organic Electronics (COE) at the University of Newcastle (UON), and creator of Printed Solar, was  developed out of the “ability to take tiny particles of mixtures of different polymers and turn them into a suspension in water that we can coat over large areas of surfaces.” 

“What we see” says Dastoor, “is the opportunity to coat every building, every roof, in every city, with a coating that will generate power.” The opportunity Dastoor speaks of is in no way embellished. Not only are the solar cells these researchers have developed (from the mixtures of different polymers) extraordinarily cheap to manufacture, but large-scale installations can be made on roofs without any weight re-enforcement. Many roofs simply aren’t able to withstand enough silicon-based panels required to meet consumption needs. 

Similarly, the technology’s lightweight nature (approximately 300 times lighter than traditional cells) would enable it to be easily transported in large quantities to emergency situations, relief energy would quite literally be rolled out. Indeed, virtually anything could be coated with what is essentially a printable solar panel membrane. 

At less than $10 a square metre and with the Australian National Fabrication Facilities (ANFF) at the COE able to print hundreds of metres per day, this technology represents both the cheapest and fastest form of renewable energy in the world. For this reason CHEP Australia, a Brambles company, partnered with UON researchers to aid in the development and enactment of commercial trials. 

Ben Vaughan, a colleague of Professor Dastoor, noted that “projects like this don’t move forward without government support to take them from the lab to the community. We also need forward thinking companies like CHEP, which tapped into their innovation fund to support the install on their roof.” 

Another added benefit of this innovation for the Australian market is its reliance on traditional printing presses, an industry facing hard times. “One of the drivers for us” said Dr Vaughan, “is to develop this technology in Australia. We have a print industry in this country which has shrinking margins and this type of functional printing is a potential way to transition the industry to be world leaders in a growth market.” 

The success of this large-scale Brambles trial is another boost to printed solar technology, an all-Australian innovation that has the potential to cover great gaps in the renewable energy market. 

Author: Blake Matich