University of Newcastle (UON) researchers may have achieved a breakthrough in creating solar cells on flexible plastic made in a roll-to-roll process with an unbelievably low price and equally incredible sensitivity. They seem to have succeeded where an American firm failed half a decade ago.
Printed solar cells were first attempted about a decade ago, with Konarka trying to make solar cells on simple ink-jet printers. The company failed, despite having a Nobel Prize winner and other top physicist and chemists overseeing the process. The “cells” never achieved more than about four- or five-percent efficiency and their plastic substrate deteriorated rapidly.
Today, The University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, and CHEP, a client firm, are displaying their thin-cell, recyclable plastic solar film that can be stuck to things with double-sided tape. Used initially to monitor response to different solar conditions, the recently-installed film shows some highly-desirable characteristics. Professor Paul Dastoor claims, “Our printed solar solution continues to function consistently in low light and under cloud cover, which means that users don’t experience dips in productivity.”
So sensitive, the material can even produce small quantities of energy from moonlight (no efficiency numbers are given), it also costs a somewhat unbelievable $10 Australian ($7.15 USD) per square meter (10.76 square feet). Your editor had to reread the numbers and check the calculations, but 1,000 square feet of this material would cost only about $715 USD.
In the video, one sees a connector plate that runs down the side of the building to a probable termination at an inverter. One sees the installation on a corrugated metal roof double-sided tape. One wonders how long the plastic substrate will last in Australia’s, or southern Florida’s sun and how soon some experimenter will tape the film to a wing and power a battery pack.
Questioned as to whether we will be able to go to a Home Depot or Lowes to get enough solar film to roll out on our roofs, Dastoor responds with a different business plan. “In future, we expect users might sign onto this energy solution in a similar way to a mobile phone plan, where you determine your usage requirements, pay a monthly service fee, but never need to ‘own’ the infrastructure. The service provider installs and upgrades your service for you as the technology continues to develop.”
Working with CHEP (Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool) UON hopes to test out its technology, already doubling output from one installation to the next. CHEP makes pallets, which we see on the ground behind their ground-breaking roof in the video, making plain why the CHEP representative compares the solar film to those load carriers.
Professor Dastoor has shepherded the process from the beginning, and sees a bright future for his brainchild. “We have developed every aspect of the system in-house at the University of Newcastle, from the creation of the electronic inks to the printing and installation process.
“Then via experiments such as this commercial installation with CHEP we make vital tweaks to the system, which edge us ever closer to our goal of seeing this renewable energy technology on every roof.”
Or perhaps every airplane. Eric Raymond flew across the United States in 1990 on available, not very efficient, solar cells. These sound a great deal more powerful, and the cost will doubtless lure a great many experimenters to try them.