The innovative, low-cost, printed, organic PV technology developed at the University of Newcastle has made a major step towards commercialization. Following last year’s large-scale trial for solar panels printed from a conventional printing press, the university has signed a strategic memorandum of understanding with Ecolog, a Dubai-based provider of integrated services, military technology, environmental solutions and oil and gas, mining and retail services.
Ecolog saw the potential for the technology’s application in a range of its products and services, including energy, defense, humanitarian and commercial sectors. The company was particularly happy with its rapid manufacturing, inexpensive replacement, ease of integration into structural materials, such as buildings, combat ensembles, temporary facilities, vehicles or retractable solar arrays. “The solution also reduces the need for generators or battery airlifting in remote operations,” it said.
The Dubai-based company plans to commercialize the printed organic PV technology in the form of an energy-as-a-service (EaaS) solution, which would allow its diverse customer base to enjoy PV benefits without investing in decentralized energy infrastructure. With the help of the Ecolog Energy Solution platform, the customers will be able to determine their energy needs, get a customized service plan, and pay a monthly service fee. Under the service scheme, the customers will be free from the infrastructure, equipment, installation, or even repair and replacement costs, the company said.
“Energy plays a pivotal role in our lives. Leveraging this revolutionary technology, Ecolog Energy Solution is going to change the relationship between people and energy. Whether printing energy for remote operations or peacekeeping missions or powering up consumers in developing countries, we are about to redefine the boundaries of what is possible,” Ali Vezvaei, Group CEO of Ecolog International, said.
Mobile power generation
Although organic PV boasts attractive features such as its low weight, transparency, flexibility and roll-to-roll production capability, take-up of the technology has been hampered by expensive raw materials, longevity issues and lower power conversion efficiency than that offered by inorganic solar cells and viable real-world applications of this technology are yet to be seen. However, the University of Newcastle sees opportunities to apply its flexible modules based on semiconducting polymers in an extremely wide range of applications.
“Our ultimate goal is to see our printed solar cells all over the world, generating renewable energy for all in remarkable new ways,” Professor Paul Dastoor, head of Centre for Organic Electronics (COE) at the University of Newcastle, said. “This strategic cooperation with Ecolog will enable us to explore new opportunities to further develop and commercialize our printed solar technology – particularly across defense and humanitarian applications – two areas we believe could significantly benefit from the use of printed solar.”
In 2018, the University of Newcastle became the first research group in the world to undertake a commercial-scale pilot of printed solar, partnering with global logistics company CHEP, a Brambles subsidiary, to install a 200-square meter rooftop array of printed solar in just one day. In this installation, each module is ten meters long and sandwiched between two layers of recyclable plastic and installed with little more than sticky tape.
Commenting on the success of the trial last year, Dastoor said that the technology 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 is the opportunity to coat every building, every roof, in every city, with a coating that will generate power,” he said.
The technology’s lightweight nature (approximately 300 times lighter than traditional cells) would enable it to be easily transported in large quantities and speedily deployed in emergency situations. At less than $10 a square meter and with the Australian National Fabrication Facilities at the COE able to print hundreds of meters per day, this technology is unmatched in terms of price and speed of manufacturing. Another added benefit of this innovation for the Australian market is its reliance on traditional printing presses, an industry facing hard times.