Innovative organic printed solar on the horizon

University of Newcastle Professor Paul Dastoor

A powerful new industry-research collaboration is signaling the emergence of a new renewable energy market – organic printed solar.

Created by University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor, organic printed solar cells are electronic inks printed onto sub-millimetre thin plastic sheets using conventional printers.

CHEP, a Brambles company, has become the historic first commercial partner helping to explore the potential of the technology.

“This is the first commercial uptake of printed solar in Australia, most likely the world,” Professor Dastoor said.

“It’s an historic step in the evolution of this technology and another example of private enterprise and community leading the charge in the adoption of renewables.”

The commercial-scale installation on CHEP’s Beresfield pallet repair facility is the final stop before the technology becomes widely available.

“Our printed solar cells are now considered to be at the ‘top of the technology readiness tree’,” Professor Dastoor said.

“Those working in technology development use a NASA developed Technology Readiness Level or ‘TRL’ system to determine how evolved our solutions are, with 1 being the lowest and 9 the highest. We are now rated TRL 8 and essentially considered ‘green lit’.”

The commercial installation comes just one year after the team’s highly celebrated, Australian first, lab-scale demonstration of printed solar.

“We learnt a lot from our first test site and, in a very short space of time, have produced a far superior second iteration, dramatically improving the system’s aesthetics, our installation method and most importantly cell efficiency,” Professor Dastoor said.

University of Newcastle Professor Paul Dastoor

Professor Dastoor and his team have more than doubled the output of the system in just a year, and expect to further double the output of the system within the next 12 weeks.

“The system works in a lineal process, so if one module is problematic it affects the output of the entire system,” he said.

“We identify the rogue modules and then simply print new material to replace them.

“We have developed every aspect of the system in-house at the university, 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.”

Viewed from above, the almost 200 sqm demonstration of cutting-edge renewable energy technology cuts a lonely figure against an expanse of bare warehouse rooftops in its location within an industrial park in Beresfield, near Newcastle.

Professor Dastoor said the installation “reflects CHEP’s culture of embracing innovation to make the world a better place”.

CHEP Asia-Pacific president Phillip Austin said the partnership highlighted how private enterprise and science can, and need to, unite to solve these global problems.

“The drivers for working with Professor Dastoor’s team were two-fold – the chance to steward this emerging renewable energy technology to implementation and the opportunity to make our circular ‘share and reuse’ business model even more sustainable,” Mr Austin said.

“This partnership creates an important test ground where this technology can demonstrate its impact.”

Printed solar is an ultra-lightweight, laminate material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet.

The material delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.

The process, coined ‘functional printing’, is completed in-house on a lab-scale printer at the University of Newcastle’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) facility.

“The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting as we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on baseload power – a renewed concern as we approach another summer here in Australia,” Professor Dastoor said.

Unlike most centralised or de-centralised energy infrastructure, which requires a substantial upfront investment, printed solar might resemble something more akin to a mobile phone 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,” Professor Dastoor said.

“This is quite a step change in how we’ll think about energy provision and energy markets in the near future,” Professor Dastoor said.

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