The Australian government has just plunged $1.6 million to help realise the dream of miniaturising solar panels into thin plastic sheets.
The Turnbull government on Wednesday announced the investment would be ploughed into CSIRO’s new collaboration with two private companies, in a venture labelled a “world-first”.
“If successful, the two-year project will help to slash the cost of solar [panels] and create an environmentally responsible building material that doesn’t compromise architectural integrity,” industry, innovation and science minister Greg Hunt said.
Printed solar cells are manufactured by applying “solar inks” onto plastic film. The solar panels are then light enough and flexible enough to be integrated easily into windows, roofs and other objects — without the structural burden of heavy traditional panels.
Solafast, a startup based in the central west region of NSW, and Melbourne high-tech printing firm Norwood are the companies partnering with the CSIRO.
“CSIRO provides the solar know-how while Norwood can take our printed electronics into the mainstream and create large-scale industrial volumes,” said CSIRO industrial innovation group leader Dr Fiona Scholes.
“Solafast’s innovative steel roll-forming technology completes the picture, allowing the solar cells to be incorporated into roof and external cladding products.”
The solar ink technology was previously developed by the CSIRO in conjunction with Melbourne and Monash universities. The ABC reported in 2014 that the three institutions had worked on the concept since 2007, forming an alliance named Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium.
Dr Scholes said at the time the technology could be used to create dual-purpose cases for smartphones and tablet computers.
“iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone – not just for casing electronics but to collect some energy as well and power those electronics,” she told the ABC. “It can be made to be semitransparent – we can use it for a tinted window scenario.”
Australia has around 15% take-up of solar power among domestic users, which is one of the highest rates internationally. But according to the government, the logistics of installing bulky panels has stopped widespread adoption in the commercial sector.
“By supporting this project, the Turnbull Government is helping Australian industry take advantage of Australia’s commercial solar market, which is estimated to be worth $250 million a year,” Hunt said.
“This is an extremely exciting project, which sees science partnering with industry to create jobs and growth potential for Australia.”
The government’s Cooperative Research Centres Programme, a scheme that backs partnerships between “industry, researchers and the community”, provided the $1.6 million through its new CRC Projects initiative.