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Asia Minute

Australia’s Progress with Printable Solar Panels


Solar power continues to become a bigger part of the energy picture for Hawai‘i and for the country. Part of that growth is pushed by developments in technology—from advances in batteries to a different kind of progress now reported in Australia. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Here’s a twist on solar energy.

Instead of those bulky glass and metal oblong blocks, what if solar cells could be smaller—flexible—and something that could be printed out?

A research team at the University of Newcastle in Australia says they’ve just installed a set of those solar panels on a factory roof.

Printable solar cells have been the subject of experimentation for quite a while—about a decade.

Research teams in various parts of the world have produced working models—but they’re only about 20-percent as efficient as traditional silicon panels.

And they don’t last—the current lifespan is maybe about two years.

But different labs have been making progress on both of those challenges---and that team in Australia has reached a new milestone with its latest installation.

The panels will undergo a test period of about six months—and the research group says it might be ready for a launch on the commercial market in about two years.

One of the keys is refining special polymer-based inks that can function as semiconductors.

One of the issues is materials—much of the structure of the printable panels relies on plastics—and specialists do not want to produce additional plastic waste.

Researchers are now concentrating on boosting the efficiency of the panels—and figuring out a way to recycle the plastics into more solar cells.

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