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The solar cells known as organic photovoltaics (OPV) are sure to play an increasingly important role in generating the renewable energy supply of the future.

OPV solar cells are made of plastic materials that can be easily recycled using existing plastic recycling systems. In contrast to conventional, silicon-based solar panels which are bulky, heavy and expensive to produce, solar panels made with OPV cells are flexible, lightweight and tensile.

These qualities mean that they can be used to cover expansive areas and are easy to install. The solar cells that we will use for Charge Around Australia are printed, which means that they can be produced at an extremely low cost.

How are printed solar cell panels made?

Physicist and solar energy researcher Professor Paul Dastoor, together with his team at the Centre for Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle, Australia, have pioneered the development of water-based solar ink. This suspension of OPV materials in water can be printed at high speed to produce very large areas, using roll to roll processing techniques, and removes the requirement for organic solvents.

How do printed solar cells work?

Special materials that conduct electricity are used in photovoltaic solar cell production. When sunlight hits an OPV cell, the particles of light energy cause electrons in the material to be knocked loose. If a charge is applied across the material, the electrons that have been knocked loose will flow in a single direction throughout the cell. This transfer of energy generates electric current.

These low-cost, printed solar modules offer immense potential for renewable power generation. Printed solar panels offer us possibilities that conventional panels do not. The technology is currently at the beginning of its development. Our belief is that improvements in the printing processes can increase the efficiency of the product.

Roto Hybrid printing technology expert Mark Jones explains that improved efficiency levels could signify a major step forward.

“This technology has the potential to move OPV from laboratory scale and speed printing, to high-speed, exceptionally low cost and ecologically friendly processes. Typically used today in the printing and packaging of consumer goods, this would position the technology as potentially the lowest cost energy per kW available.”