Solar power is a rapidly growing force in how we power our homes, and solar panels are incredibly useful in situations where you need power but conventional power solutions won’t work. That said, hauling heavy panels into disaster areas or across rugged terrain makes for a difficult proposition. Now, Australian researchers have come up with a novel solution: Printing them out.
Paul Dastoor, a professor at Australia’s University of Newcastle, is an expert in organic electronics. “Organic,” in this case, implies carbon-based materials that are soluble in liquids. Meaning, you can create paints and inks that work much like electronics, forming useful crystal structures when they dry. Dastoor has been working for years on “solar ink”, which reacts to sunlight the same way a silicon solar panel does. Now he’s perfected a process where in a conventional printer can be used to run off yard after yard of cheap, light plastic solar panels. They’re so light and flexible, in fact, they have to be secured with Velcro so they won’t blow away.
The panels aren’t as efficient as the higher end panels you’ll find on Tesla roofs. Currently, solar ink panels average about three percent efficiency, although some of these inks rival the 20% efficiency of current panels. But they’re so cheap and simple to turn out, and so light and flexible, that you can balance the efficacy with sheer volume; you can turn out as many yards of panels as you need. And, of course, the technology is only improving; it might not be so long before powering your house is as simple as firing up a printer.