Two years after they embarked on a solar-cell printing initiative, Australian researchers are showing off cells the size of A3 paper – that’s about 16.5 by 11.7 inches – spit out by a $200,000 machine.

The researchers in the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) – a collaboration between CSIRO, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners – say their printer uses semiconducting inks to “print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel.” They compared it to the sort of screen printing used to put images on T-shirts and say the machine can crank out 10 meters per minute, or about one cell every two seconds.

Researcher Scott Watkins with a printed solar cell (image via CSIRO)
Researcher Scott Watkins with a printed solar cell (image via CSIRO)

These cells produce between 10 and 50 watts of power per square meter (a typical crystalline solar cell might produce around 150 watts per square meter). Not a ton of power, but enough to be useful for some purposes, perhaps.

“There are so many things we can do with cells this size,” researcher Scott Watkins said in a statement. “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.”

solar printing
The new solar cell printer can print cells up to 30 cm wide (image via CSIRO)

But the researchers think they can go bigger. Remember, when we reported on this group in 2011, the cells they were making were tiny – fingernail sized.

“Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers,” team leader David Jones said. “By printing directly to materials like steel, we’ll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials.”

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