‘Inkjet’ solar panels poised to revolutionize green energy

Experimental solar panels hang in the window of a Saule company laboratory in Wroclaw on January 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 February 2019
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‘Inkjet’ solar panels poised to revolutionize green energy

  • The sustainability dream is today one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to Polish physicist and businesswoman Olga Malinkiewicz
  • Solar panels coated with the mineral are light, flexible, efficient, inexpensive and come in varying hues and degrees of transparency

WROCLAW, Poland: What if one day all buildings could be equipped with windows and facades that satisfy the structure’s every energy need, whether rain or shine?
That sustainability dream is today one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to Polish physicist and businesswoman Olga Malinkiewicz.
The 36-year-old has developed a novel inkjet processing method for perovskites — a new generation of cheaper solar cells — that makes it possible to produce solar panels under lower temperatures, thus sharply reducing costs.
Indeed, perovskite technology is on track to revolutionize access to solar power for all, given its surprising physical properties, some experts say.
“In our opinion, perovskite solar cells have the potential to address the world energy poverty,” said Mohammad KHajja Nazeeruddin, a professor at Switzerland’s Federal Institue of Technology Lausanne, an institution on the cutting-edge of solar energy research.
Solar panels coated with the mineral are light, flexible, efficient, inexpensive and come in varying hues and degrees of transparency.
They can easily be fixed to almost any surface — be it laptop, car, drone, spacecraft or building — to produce electricity, including in the shade or indoors.
Though the excitement is new, perovskite has been known to science since at least the 1830s, when it was first identified by German mineralogist Gustav Rose while prospecting in the Ural mountains and named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski.
In the following decades, synthesising the atomic structure of perovskite became easier.
But it was not until 2009 that Japanese researcher Tsutomu Miyasaka discovered that perovskites can be used to form photovoltaic solar cells.
Initially the process was complicated and required ultra high temperatures, so only materials that could withstand extreme heat — like glass — could be coated with perovskite cells.
This is where Malinkiewicz comes in.
In 2013, while still a PhD student at the University of Valencia in Spain, she figured out a way to coat flexible foil with perovskites using an evaporation method.
Later, she developed an inkjet printing procedure that lowered production costs enough to make mass production economically feasible.
“That was a bull’s eye. Now high temperatures are no longer required to coat things with a photovoltaic layer,” Malinkiewicz told AFP.
Her discovery quickly earned her an article in the journal Nature and media attention, as well as the Photonics21 Student Innovation award in a competition organized by the European Commission.
The Polish edition of the MIT Technology Review also selected her as one of its Innovators Under 35 in 2015.
She went on to cofound the company Saule Technologies — named after the Baltic goddess of the sun — along with two Polish businessmen.
They had to assemble all their laboratory equipment from scratch, before multimillionaire Japanese investor Hideo Sawada came on board.
The company now has an ultra-modern laboratory with an international team of young experts and is building an industrial-scale production site.
“This will be the world’s first production line using this technology. Its capacity will reach 40,000 square meters of panels by the end of the year and 180,000 square meters the following year,” Malinkiewicz said at her lab.
“But that’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of demand.”
Eventually, compact production lines could easily be installed everywhere, according to demand, to manufacture perovskite solar panels that are made to measure.
The Swedish construction group Skanska is testing the cutting-edge panels on the facade of one of its buildings in Warsaw.
It also inked a licencing partnership with Saule in December for the exclusive right to incorporate the company’s solar cell technology in its projects in Europe, the United States and Canada.
“Perovskite technology is bringing us closer to the goal of energy self-sufficient buildings,” said Adam Targowski, sustainability manager at Skanska.
“Perovskites have proven successful even on surfaces that receive little sunlight. We can apply them pretty much everywhere,” he told AFP.
“More or less transparent, the panels also respond to design requirements. Thanks to their flexibility and varying tints, there’s no need to add any extra architectural elements.”
A standard panel of around 1.3 square meters, at a projected cost of 50 euros ($57), would supply a day’s worth of energy to an office workstation, according to current estimates.
Malinkiewicz insists that the initial cost of her products will be comparable to conventional solar panels.
Perovskite technology is also being tested on a hotel in Japan, near the city of Nagasaki.
Plans are also afoot for the pilot production of perovskite panels in Valais, Switzerland and in Germany under the wings of the Oxford Photovoltaics venture.
“The potential of the technology is clearly enormous,” Assaad Razzouk, the CEO of Singapore-based Sindicatum Rewable Energy, a developer and operator of clean energy projects in Asia, told AFP.
“Just think of all the buildings one could retrofit worldwide!“


Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor them at sea at a beach in the island of Lesbos on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

  • “All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report”
  • Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite

LESBOS ISLAND, Greece: Knee-deep in water on a picture-postcard Lesbos island beach, a team of Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor it at sea.
Holding in plastic bags and bottles, four of the 5 meter-by-5-meter (16 foot-by-16-foot) frames are part of an experiment to determine if seaborne litter can be detected with EU satellites and drones.
“This was the first big day,” says project supervisor Konstantinos Topuzelis, an assistant professor at the University of the Aegean department of Marine Sciences, said of the scene from last week.
“All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report.”
The results of the experiment — “Satellite Testing and Drone Mapping for Marine Plastics on the Aegean Sea” — by the university’s Marine Remote Sensing Group will be presented at a European Space Agency symposium in Milan in May.
“Marine litter is a global problem that affects all the oceans of the world,” Topouzelis told AFP.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans, affecting marine wildlife all along the food chain.
“Modern techniques are necessary to detect and quantify marine plastics in seawater,” Topouzelis added, noting that space agencies have already been looking into how drones and satellites can help with the clean-up.
“The main advantage is that we are using existing tools,” which brings down costs and makes it easier to scale up, says Dimitris Papageorgiou, one of the 60 undergraduate and postgraduate students who worked on the experiment.
To prepare, the team gathered some 2,000 plastic bottles and lashed them to the frames. Other targets were crafted with plastic bags, as these are even harder to spot in the water and usually constitute the deadliest threat to Aegean marine life such as dolphins, turtles and seals.
In 2018, a first phase in the experiment was able to detect large targets of around 100 square meters from space.
This year’s experiment uses targets a quarter that size to test the smallest detectable area under various weather conditions.
“It was a crazy idea,” laughs Topouzelis.
“We knew that the European satellite system passes at regular intervals with a spatial resolution of 10 meters.”
In theory, then, the satellites should be able to detect the floating rafts of plastic the team pushed out to sea.
The University of the Aegean is working on the project with Universidad de Cadiz in Spain, CNR-Ismar in Italy and UK environmental consultants Argans Ltd.
Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite.
The project acts as a calibration and validation exercise on the detection capabilities of the satellites.
But even if relatively small patches of plastic garbage can be spotted from orbiting satellites, the problem of how to remove it from the sea remains.
Last year, a giant floating barrier five years in the making was launched off the coast of San Francisco, as part of a $20-million project to clean up a swirling island of rubbish between California and Hawaii.
But the slow speed of the solar-powered barrier prevents it from holding onto the plastic after it scoops it up.