I’m sure that there are tons of reasons why solar panels aren’t absolutely everywhere. Expense, aesthetics, and so forth. But really, we should have them wherever light is, shouldn’t we? No reason not to harvest all of that energy, right? VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a beautiful, flexible, and entirely recyclable type of organic solar panel that can be mass-produced by printing it on film so that it can be as ubiquitous as wallpaper, and look like it, too.
VTT’s organic solar films are just 0.2mm thick, and they come out of a roll-to-roll printing process at 100 meters every minute complete with polymer light collecting layers and electrodes sandwiched inside plastic substrates and films. Graphics can be printed on top as with the leaves in the pictures above and below; one square meter of film works out to be about 200 of these functional leaves, producing 10.4 watts of power (3.2 amps), at least if you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean.
While organic solar panels are certainly flexible and lovely to look at, they tend to be more expensive and less efficient than inorganic solar panels, which are generally made from silicon. By using perovskite instead, it’s possible to make an inorganic solar cell that performs five times better than an organic one, while costing ten times less in materials. The tricky part is figuring out a way to toss perovskite into the roll-to-roll printing process to manufacture inorganic cells efficiently, and that’s what VTT is working on next.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.