Coming soon: 3D printable solar panels capable of powering… anything

Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas
Printable solar panels are going to be available to us very soon and could power “entire skyscrapers,” Australian researchers say. The very near future will see personal electronic charging transformed, but the potential is growing quickly.

A team of 50 scientists in various fields worked for years to develop paper-thin, printable solar panels as part of the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium. They hope to see commercial market production for use in low-power applications in the very near future.

The key benefit of such technology is in transforming the way personal electronics are charged. "iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone [will no longer be] just for casing electronics, but to collect some energy as well and power those electronics," Fiona Scholes, a senior research scientist at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, told ABC News.

What’s more, the energy source can be transported to the world’s remote and developing regions in a cheap and easy way.

According to the consortium’s website, the difference between existing solar panels and the technology it is developing is that “organic cells offer the potential to allow printing directly onto materials such as roofing and windows, and therefore open intriguing building integrated design opportunities.”

The consortium is comprised of members of CSIRO, Melbourne and Monash universities.

They’ve now managed to reduce the solar panels to the size of a coin. They achieved results by using ordinary 3D printers adapted to work with solar ink. "It's very cheap. The way in which it looks and works is quite different to conventional silicon rooftop solar," Scholes went on.

"It can be made to be semitransparent – we can use it for a tinted window scenario." The team is now in the process of developing a spray-painted coating.

The big implication for the future is that once they’ve got the process streamlined of adapting plastic for solar panel use streamlined, powering entire skyscrapers would be no big deal.

"We print them onto plastic in more or less the same way we print our plastic banknotes," Scholes also said. "Connecting our solar panels is as simple as connecting a battery."

As their dream gets closer to realization, companies are beginning to show interest in developing the technology further.

"We would like to improve the efficiency of solar panels - we need to develop solar inks to generate more energy from sunlight… We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come,” Scholes said.

The potential for alternative uses is endless, she told Mashable. "They could potentially be used in a whole range of applications such as consumer product packaging, windows and window furnishings, temporary structures, remote locations and developing communities."