Printed solar panels help a Tesla Model 3 circle Australia

Cars cannot run on solar power indefinitely, at least not normal cars using today’s solar power technology. Indeed, today’s best photovoltaic cells, even if they covered the entire exterior of a car, are not efficient enough to create the energy needed to run the car. So it caught our attention when a team from Newcastle University announced plans to drive a Tesla Model 3 around the perimeter of Australia using only solar energy – from printed solar panels made from recycled water bottles and photovoltaic ink.

Outboard Printed Solar Panels

The first thing to know is that these solar panels are not part of the car. On the contrary, the solar panel is 60 feet long, but it is very light and flexible enough to be rolled up and carried in the trunk of the Model 3. This network is said to be able to recharge the Tesla after six hours of cooking under the Australian sun is how Model 3 plans to spend 84 days traveling 9,400 miles across the continent, while stopping at some 70 schools to spark interest in STEM subjects and spread the gospel of energies renewable.

Printing with photovoltaic ink

The concept of printing solar cells has actually been around for over a decade. In 2011, MIT proposed depositing photovoltaic cells on paper, textiles, and even plastic food packaging, but this steam-printing process had to be done in a vacuum, and the electrical connections didn’t tolerate much bending. It’s sunnier in Australia than Boston, however, and the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium has been experimenting with semiconductor inks there since 2007, applying them by spraying, reverse etching and slot dye coating, as well as screen printing. And they printed on plastic, with no voids, much the same way Australia first printed its currency in plastic in 1988.

Not very effective

Today’s state-of-the-art silicon-based photovoltaic cells are about 25% efficient at converting light energy from photons to electrons. These semiconductor ink-based solar collectors convert solar energy into electrical energy with an efficiency of over 2%, although the folks at Newcastle University estimate that 4% efficiency is within reach. hand.

Not super long lasting either

Printing on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic and covering the printed surface with another layer of PET means that the printed solar panels are extremely flexible, but they don’t last very long. The Newcastle team say their panels have a useful life of one to two years, although further development may improve longevity somewhat. And using organic electronic technology, the panels should be fully renewable, reusable (if the PET layers can be separated), easily recycled.

hella cheap

You pay for what you get. Most of the expense of today’s typical rooftop solar panels is to process the silicon that contains the photovoltaic material. Without wafers, raw materials for printing solar cells are extremely cheap. There’s nothing exotic about the production process either – cells can be printed at 33 feet per minute – so the Newcastle University team estimate that printed solar panels can be produced for around 0 $.66/square foot. This means that the energy they produce costs $0.62 per kilowatt hour.

A bright future for printed solar panels?

Scientists say it will eventually be possible to print photovoltaic semiconductor ink on a huge range of surfaces and materials (even steel), making possible solar curtains, blinds and perhaps even windows using partially transparent photovoltaic ink. But it’s still too early to expect that a vehicle the size and shape of today’s cars, powered by today’s engines, could drive all day without stopping. at least to recharge a little with solar energy.

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