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Finding and using alternative energy sources is quickly becoming a must and one obstacle to overcome is how to make solar panels easier to incorporate into building projects. This, of course, involves making them look pretty. VTT Technical Centre of Finland has gone a step further in this. They have come up with a method that allows for the printing of decorative graphics and functional components onto flexible organic solar panels.

But that’s not all. These panels can be used to harvest energy from interior lighting as well as sunlight, which yields enough energy to power small devices and sensors.

The process they developed involves production of organic solar panels using a roll-to-roll method, which can produce up to 100 meters of layered film per minute. According to the researchers, one rotary screen printing layer and two gravure printing layers on plastic substrate are used in the process. The process first involves functional layers being printed between plastic foils, while the final step is using barrier films to encapsulate them.

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The organic solar panels produced in this way are only 0.2 mm thick and already include the electrodes and polymer layers used for light collection. The panels produced in this way can be placed on either interior surfaces or exterior ones, and they can also be attached to machines, gadgets and other devices. Due to the decorative prints that adorn them, these panels could easily become a tool used by interior designers.

To test their product, the researchers printed photovoltaic cells that are shaped like leaves. It takes two hundred of these decorative panels to make a square meter of an active solar panel surface. Such a panel was tested and found to be able to generate 3.2 amps of electricity with 10.4 watts of power.

Compare to traditional solar panels, organic ones are cheaper to produce, recyclable, require less material to make, and light enough so that they can be attached to a variety of surfaces. However, organic panels have a much lower efficiency than silicone-based panels. To try and raise the efficiency, the scientists are testing and researching roll-to-roll methods for making perovskite solar panels. They’ve made good progress, and the organic PV cells they produced are 5 times more efficient than organic photovoltaic cells produced by different means.