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A team of University of Newcastle researchers has been showing off their ultra-light solar cells that are produced at a rate of hundreds of metres a day using ANFF Material’s roll-to-roll printing capabilities.

With two at-scale projects now completed, the team are investigating the best ways to get their technology into the market, and have been in discussions with the print industry both locally and internationally regarding scale up.

The production principle is relatively simple. The technology required for printing the panels is essentially the industry standard, but instead of ink and paper, a photovoltaic liquid and a plastic substrate are used. This means that as the world sees the decline of the printing industry, struggling factories could be quickly repurposed to start printing solar panels.

The research team, led by Professor Paul Dastoor from The University of Newcastle’s Centre for Organic Electronics, recently completed a public demonstration of what the panels are capable of by powering a light display in Sydney’s north shore. Their flexible printed panels were attached to the curved overhead structure of a covered walkway, powering the entire 35 m display.

This is off the back of an incredibly successful proof-of-concept trial in partnership with logistics giant, CHEP, that is perhaps a more accurate example of how the panels can demonstrate their worth in the future. The panels have been on the roof of CHEP’s pallet reconditioning facility in the Hunter Valley for almost 2 years now ¬ñ their efficiency has dropped in line with expectations, but by and large, they show little to no visual degradation and have been capturing energy the entire time.

It will be installations such as across the roofs of large facilities or even along the sides of roads in remote areas that these panels will be best used – where they really come to the fore is affordable scalability and minimal weight.

Using ANFF Materials’ roll-to-roll printing suite, the team are already capable of printing 100’s of metres per day at very low cost ¬ñ once manufacturing is scaled up, this could be closer to kilometres of power-grabbing panels a day, allowing the sheer quantity of the sheets to overcome the differences in efficiency with commercially available alternatives.

They also weigh just 300g per metre, a fraction of conventional panels that weigh in at about 15kg per metre. These new panels are so light and thin that they can be fixed in place with double- sided tape, allowing them to be used almost anywhere there is a surface to stick them to.

The printed panels currently have a life span of about two years, with water being the primary cause of degradation over time ¬ñ but they should not be considered as disposable. The constituent materials are fully recyclable, so after their relatively short life span, they can be reused in new panels and start “catching rays” all over again.

The next step for the team is an ANFF-supported infrastructure expansion, and continued development of the materials to produce a new set of higher performance materials to push the technology even further.