‘Inkjet’ solar panels poised to revolutionize green energy

Author: 
Stanislaw WASZAK | AFP
ID: 
1549168392948692600
Sun, 2019-02-03 04:25

WROCLAW, Poland: What if one day all buildings could be equipped
with windows and facades that satisfy the structure’s every
energy need, whether rain or shine?
That sustainability dream is today one step closer to becoming a
reality thanks to Polish physicist and businesswoman Olga
Malinkiewicz.
The 36-year-old has developed a novel inkjet processing method for
perovskites — a new generation of cheaper solar cells — that
makes it possible to produce solar panels under lower temperatures,
thus sharply reducing costs.
Indeed, perovskite technology is on track to revolutionize access
to solar power for all, given its surprising physical properties,
some experts say.
“In our opinion, perovskite solar cells have the potential to
address the world energy poverty,” said Mohammad KHajja
Nazeeruddin, a professor at Switzerland’s Federal Institue of
Technology Lausanne, an institution on the cutting-edge of solar
energy research.
Solar panels coated with the mineral are light, flexible,
efficient, inexpensive and come in varying hues and degrees of
transparency.
They can easily be fixed to almost any surface — be it laptop,
car, drone, spacecraft or building — to produce electricity,
including in the shade or indoors.
Though the excitement is new, perovskite has been known to science
since at least the 1830s, when it was first identified by German
mineralogist Gustav Rose while prospecting in the Ural mountains
and named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski.
In the following decades, synthesising the atomic structure of
perovskite became easier.
But it was not until 2009 that Japanese researcher Tsutomu Miyasaka
discovered that perovskites can be used to form photovoltaic solar
cells.
Initially the process was complicated and required ultra high
temperatures, so only materials that could withstand extreme heat
— like glass — could be coated with perovskite cells.
This is where Malinkiewicz comes in.
In 2013, while still a PhD student at the University of Valencia in
Spain, she figured out a way to coat flexible foil with perovskites
using an evaporation method.
Later, she developed an inkjet printing procedure that lowered
production costs enough to make mass production economically
feasible.
“That was a bull’s eye. Now high temperatures are no longer
required to coat things with a photovoltaic layer,” Malinkiewicz
told AFP.
Her discovery quickly earned her an article in the journal Nature
and media attention, as well as the Photonics21 Student Innovation
award in a competition organized by the European Commission.
The Polish edition of the MIT Technology Review also selected her
as one of its Innovators Under 35 in 2015.
She went on to cofound the company Saule Technologies — named
after the Baltic goddess of the sun — along with two Polish
businessmen.
They had to assemble all their laboratory equipment from scratch,
before multimillionaire Japanese investor Hideo Sawada came on
board.
The company now has an ultra-modern laboratory with an
international team of young experts and is building an
industrial-scale production site.
“This will be the world’s first production line using this
technology. Its capacity will reach 40,000 square meters of panels
by the end of the year and 180,000 square meters the following
year,” Malinkiewicz said at her lab.
“But that’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of
demand.”
Eventually, compact production lines could easily be installed
everywhere, according to demand, to manufacture perovskite solar
panels that are made to measure.
The Swedish construction group Skanska is testing the cutting-edge
panels on the facade of one of its buildings in Warsaw.
It also inked a licencing partnership with Saule in December for
the exclusive right to incorporate the company’s solar cell
technology in its projects in Europe, the United States and
Canada.
“Perovskite technology is bringing us closer to the goal of
energy self-sufficient buildings,” said Adam Targowski,
sustainability manager at Skanska.
“Perovskites have proven successful even on surfaces that receive
little sunlight. We can apply them pretty much everywhere,” he
told AFP.
“More or less transparent, the panels also respond to design
requirements. Thanks to their flexibility and varying tints,
there’s no need to add any extra architectural elements.”
A standard panel of around 1.3 square meters, at a projected cost
of 50 euros ($57), would supply a day’s worth of energy to an
office workstation, according to current estimates.
Malinkiewicz insists that the initial cost of her products will be
comparable to conventional solar panels.
Perovskite technology is also being tested on a hotel in Japan,
near the city of Nagasaki.
Plans are also afoot for the pilot production of perovskite panels
in Valais, Switzerland and in Germany under the wings of the Oxford
Photovoltaics venture.
“The potential of the technology is clearly enormous,” Assaad
Razzouk, the CEO of Singapore-based Sindicatum Rewable Energy, a
developer and operator of clean energy projects in Asia, told
AFP.
“Just think of all the buildings one could retrofit
worldwide!“

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‘Inkjet’ solar panels poised to revolutionize green energy