Researchers, at VTT Technical Centre of Finland, have devised an innovative mass production technique that allows the printing of ornate organic solar panels. Ushering solar energy into the domain of interior design, the technology provides a feasible and cost-effective way of producing the functional units as well as the decorative graphics. The panels, designed to harvest energy from both interior lighting and incident sunlight, are capable of powering a variety of small electronic devices and sensors.
The new production method is based on organic photovoltaics (OPV). Known for being highly flexible and lightweight, OPV panels are inexpensive and more importantly, recyclable. According to the team at VTT, the panels are manufactured with the help of existing printing techniques, such as the roll-to-roll method. This ensures swift mass production at a speed of about 100 meters of printed film per minute. The mechanism places one rotary screen-printed layer, along with two gravure-printed layers, atop a piece of plastic. The result is a fully-functioning OPV panel that is merely 0.2 mm in thickness.
In order to test the commercial viability of the method, the scientists printed a bunch of leaf-shaped solar cells, each with an active area of 0.0144 m2. The cells, produced via this technique, possess the necessary electrodes as well as the polymer layers through which the incident energy is absorbed. Two hundred of these OPV leaves comes together to form one square meter of solar panel surface, which is in turn capable of generating 3.2 amps of electricity at 10.4 watts of power.
What is more, the highly-specialized screen and gravure printing technologies have enabled the researchers to produce solar panels that are visually appeasing. Up until now, photovoltaic panels have been available only in the form of stripes. The leaf-shaped solar cells, on the other hand, actually double as stunning home decor accessories. Programmed to collect energy from incident sunlight as well as indoor lighting, these newly-designed panels can be attached to both interior and exterior surfaces, like walls and windows of buildings, and even billboards.
One major disadvantage, when it comes to organic solar panels, is the fact that their conversion efficiency is considerably lower in comparison to the commonly-available silicon varieties. As a result, the scientists are currently trying to customize the roll-to-roll manufacturing technique for the production of perovskite-based PV panels. According to the team, the first inorganic solar cell, generated via VTT’s mass production method, is reportedly five times more efficient, and also ten times cheaper, than organic photovoltaics.