Solar is heading fast towards becoming the world’s main source of energy, with super efficient and more affordable technologies emerging every day. But if for us in the developed world this could only mean drop in prices for electricity, while protecting the environment, those a little less fortunate are still a long way away from being able to take advantage.
However, a new technology, developed by the South Korean firm Kyung-In Synthetic and presented earlier this month at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, might actually provide a solution to this problem.
Kyung-In Synthetic presented a paper-thin, flexible, 3D printed strip, made of solar cells, which can be extremely easy and affordable to produce and transport- the only thing that is required is an industrial-size 3D printer and some perovskite material.
Printed solar cells can be very cheap and efficient, thanks to innovative research and incredible improvements in efficiency over the past few years. Following the process that the experts at Kyung-In Synthetic propose, a 3D printed strip can generate 10-50 watts per square meter. Because provoskite material is used, the approach is organic and the resulted strips require much less sunlight when compared to their silicon-based counterparts.
This technology can be what rural communities around the world have been waiting for. According the director of the unit for overseas business at Kyung-In, these 3D printed solar cells have already been used in India, where people with no access to grid electricity could benefit greatly from the cheap and easily transportable units.
Unfortunately, there are still a few limitations that the company has to take care of, before commercial distribution and mass production can take place. Firstly, the 3D printed solar cells are highly vulnerable to moisture. If they get into contact with it, they can easily break, and could lead to lead pollution. Specialists at the company, however, are already busy testing various coatings that can prevent this without having big influence on the efficiency and price.
The second problem, however, is a bit more difficult to alleviate. As cheap as 3D printed solar cells can be, the cost of the actual industrial printers is quite high. In order for mass production to happen, there is a need of quite a substantial initial investment, which is quite difficult to secure at this stage.
Nevertheless, the guys at Kyung-In are hopeful that funding will be secured. They are certain that 3D printed solar technologies are the best bet for communities in the developing world- they are the mean that has the biggest chance in bringing the world closer to breaching the ultimate 100% renewable energy goal.
Image (c) NPL