There's are a variety of alternative sources of energy out there that break away from the traditional, environment-dampening methods used, some of them better tailored to certain locations than others. Solar power is one such source, and Australia is a prime location for such technology, offering many bright and sunny days. One of the biggest problems with solar power has been its cost, which may be changing in the near future thanks to a machine that prints a solar cell every 2 seconds.
Every solar cell printed by the printer is the size of an A3 piece of paper, with the machine producing 10-meters/33-feet every 60 seconds. In 2010, the previous generation of this machine produced solar cells that were approximately the size of a human fingernail up to 10 centimeters. Fast-forward three years, and its current-generation is now producing cells that measure 30 centimeters across.
Dr. Scott Watkins, a materials scientist with CSIRO, said: "There are so many things we can do with cells this size. We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside." In addition to laptop cases, other speculative future uses include printing on the sides of buildings and on windows, providing passive energy from items and locations consistently exposed to the sun.
This printer cost $200,000 AUD, and prints the solar cells onto thin, flexible steel and plastic in much the same way an image is screen printed onto a clothing item. The printing itself is done using semiconducting ink, and represents an improvement over silicon solar panels, which are far more costly. According to CSIRO, each meter of solar cells produces 10 watts to 50 watts of electricity.
That doesn't mean they will replace silicon solar panels, however, instead complementing them, says Watkins. This is because the cells in each type of panel draw their energy from differing aspects of the solar spectrum, meaning they each serve their own unique purpose. This particular type of solar cell's best feature is the ability to be printed rapidly on a thin and versatile medium.
The future goal is to print even larger cells.