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Australia’s CSIRO to Co-Test Flexible Solar Cells in Space

Image Credits: CSIRO, Info Page

CSIRO and an Australian in-space transportation provider have teamed up to test Australian flexible solar cell technology in space. This will be the first time CSIRO’s printable solar cells have been tested in space. The agency will test its next-gen solar cells on SMC’s spacecraft Optimus-1, to be launched next year.

Data from this mission will be collected to explore new applications of the technology, CSIRO’s Principal Research Scientist said. Solar films are about making solar energy more accessible, on earth and in space.

Developing Australian in-space solar technology is crucial for the country’s sovereign space capability and the growth of the local space industry said SMC in a statement. Solar is the primary energy source in space, but space-graded rigid and foldable solar panels, the main alternatives today, are heavy and extremely expensive.

In addition to the cost, the current space solar technology is dominated by countries with a well-developed space industry, such as the USA, China and a small group of European nations. This means Australian space companies depend on suppliers that are thousands of kilometres away and are largely committed to the demands of their local markets.

Printable solar cells are usually less efficient than the rigid versions but, in the future, they could be an order of magnitude cheaper than traditional space-grade solar cells and exceptionally volume efficient, according to SMC.

This is an example of collaboration between a privately funded space company and a government agency to develop the Australian sovereign capability in space. While the initial test will use static printed cells that are fixed to the space craft’s surface, the goal is to use solar films that are deployed with light and compact dispensers, which will minimise stowage volume on satellites.

About CSIRO’s printable solar cells

Solar energy is a huge source of clean, sustainable power. Even a fraction of the sun’s energy could power the world. With global energy demands continuing to rise, a range of low-cost solar technologies will be crucial to meeting the energy needs of both the developed and developing world.

Printable solar cells that are flexible and lightweight

CSIRO is developing new materials and processes to produce thin, flexible and semi-transparent solar cells based on printable ‘solar inks’. These inks are deposited onto flexible plastic films using a range of processes including, micro-gravure coating, slot-die coating and screen printing.

The agency developed capabilities in both organic photovoltaics (OPV) and perovskite photovoltaics. These technologies differ in a number of ways from conventional silicon-based solar cells, offering:

  • Greater flexibility: Being lightweight and flexible, solar panels can be integrated into windows, window furnishings, tents and even consumer packaging
  • Portability: the thin and lightweight solar can provide immediate power to cater to the energy needs for remote outback locations and developing communities.

Australian leaders in printed perovskite photovoltaics

By developing new materials and processes, CSIRO has achieved efficiencies of greater than 19 per cent on small-scale devices. The pilot-scale, roll-to-roll printing lines have successfully fabricated 30-centimetre-wide flexible solar modules that can be cut to length.

The agency is are focusing its technology on specific applications and can now produce pilot-scale quantities of solar film for incorporation into a wide range of prototypes. The low barrier to entry of this technology means CSIRO can provide new opportunities for Australian manufacturing, creating new markets, value-adding to existing markets and generating jobs.

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