Researchers in Greece want to mass-produce photovoltaics from the 2D printer. The “third generation” solar panels are significantly thinner than conventional systems and at the same time flexible. You can even attach them to electric cars and clothing.

Systems that generate energy from sunbeams are not new. However, conventional solar modules consist of hard panels and are therefore not flexible. In addition, they are comparatively thick and not translucent. Researchers at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, on the other hand, have developed novel solar panels that are said to have significant advantages over existing photovoltaics. In January, the construction of a factory for the production of solar panels began in the northern Greek port city. Stergios Logothetidis, head and director of the LTFN nanotechnology laboratory at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and president of the company Organic Electronics Technologies (OET), which developed the solar panels, announced the official start of the project last Thursday.

The modules consist of many nano-layers that are produced in a 2D printer and are based on organic semiconductors. Thanks to their semi-transparent property, they should be able to be used on various surfaces: on windows, roofs, awnings, parking lots, bus stops, electric cars and even clothing, such as on a jacket or a bag. For example, there is a cooperation with Fiat to integrate the solar panels in the body of the car manufacturer’s battery-powered transport vehicles in the future. Logothetidis informed the star of this. He told the Greek daily Kathimerini: “Printed organic photovoltaics offer solutions at a time when the installed capacity of renewable energy sources and the space they occupy will increase sharply. Based on the targets set, much larger quantities will be needed by 2030 and even larger amounts by 2050. […] Where will the [systems] all be installed? How to avoid wasting land with impacts on agricultural production and nutrition?”

Solar panels are said to be cheaper than conventional photovoltaics

This is where its solar panels should make themselves useful by increasing the possible uses. Another advantage is said to be in production. In comparison, conventional photovoltaics are significantly more expensive because they require more expensive materials and higher production temperatures. Logothetidis also points out that the technology is much more modern. The silicon technology on which conventional photovoltaics are based was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1951, while organic semiconductors were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000. “In addition, the 3rd generation is much lighter, only 400 grams per square meter, while the 1st generation is a weight of 22 kilograms,” says the professor of nanotechnology.

Although the efficiency of the new solar panels is lower than that of conventional systems, development is progressing rapidly. “The efficiency depends on the development time of the technology and the production volume,” explains Logothetidis. If organic photovoltaics were to be mass-produced, the costs would drop significantly. According to the researcher’s plans, the system should produce one million square meters of photovoltaics by the end of 2025. For this, the project called “Flex2Energy” receives EU funding of a good 21 million euros. 14 partners from industry and research are involved – from Greece, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Italy and Romania. The solar panels from the 2D printer have already proven their functionality. In Thessaloniki there was a seven-year pilot project in which the modules were produced and successfully installed on greenhouses.

In Erlangen, too, research is being done on solar cells from the 3D printer

However, the production of such solar cells from the printer is not entirely new. For example, Prof. Julien Bachmann at the Chair for Chemistry of Thin Film Materials at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has developed solar panels with a 3D printer. Since the semiconductors made from silicon, for example, are inflexible and require a lot of energy and raw materials, sustainable materials were used, according to the website. However, the solar cells have proven to be less efficient than conventional production – a finding that was also made at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. Professor Bachmann and his team are therefore researching more sustainable and efficient prototypes. The development of photovoltaics continues globally. Now, however, according to “Kathimerini”, the world’s first factory for the production of such solar modules is to be built in Greece.

Sources: Kathimerini, ERT, LTFN, FAU