For the last seven years, a bunch of Australian materials scientists from CSIRO, Monash University and the University of Melbourne have been developing a technique to print solar cells onto plastic surfaces. Now, the team is tantalizingly close to reaching commercialization stage, meaning that protective covers which also charge your gadgets with renewable energy could be just round the corner.
“iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone – not just for casing electronics but to collect some energy as well and power those electronics,” CSIRO’s senior research scientist Dr. Fiona Scholes told ABC News.
The technology has made leaps and bounds since the team embarked on their project in 2007. The first solar cells produced were only around the size of a coin, but as they improved the technology they were able to steadily increase the size. Now, using commercial printers modified to take a special solar ink, the researchers are able to produce A3-sized sheets of flexible solar cells in much the same way that plastic banknotes are printed.
“It’s very cheap. The way in which it looks and works is quite different to conventional silicon rooftop solar,” said Scholes.
With this technology, virtually any plastic surface could be converted into a solar panel, making it ideal for powering up houses and even skyscrapers. What’s more, hooking up these solar panels is as easy as connecting a battery.
Before this technology hits the shelves, the researchers first need to improve the efficiency of the solar cells. But the group has already had a lot of interest from investors who would like to help them achieve this.
“We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come,” said Scholes.
photo credit: CSIRO