Green and renewable energy projects are always at the forefront of R&D teams across the globe and the team of scientists at the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland are no exception. The team are in the process of developing a prototype 3D printed ‘tree’ that also uses a kind of intaglio printing process to collect solar energy. The ‘trees’ are capable of harvesting solar energy both indoors or outdoors. The ‘trees’ store the energy and create enough electric power to operate small devices like mobile phones and LED lighting.

The VTT Technical Research Centre is the biggest multi-technological applied research organisation in Northern Europe. The centre is a non-profit organisation and falls under the domain of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy for the Finnish government.

The new idea resulted from a new mass production method that enables designers to design and create objects from organic solar panels (OPV-organic photovoltaics ) that are sensitive enough to collect energy from either interior lighting or sunlight. The solar panels are ultra-thin and around 0.2 mm thick. They include electrodes and polymer layers coupled with graphics that provide them with visual representation of a leaf.

The ‘leaves’ of the ‘tree’, attached to 3D printed ‘trunks’ which is made of a wood-based biomaterial (also developed at VTT), are both flexible and patterned to form an electronic system that is complete with wiring channels, which conduct energy to a converter system.

The team printed the leaf-shaped photovoltaic cells, each of which has a surface area of 0.0144 square meters and includes connections and the necessary wiring. The team say 200 of the OPV “leaves”  will be capable of generating 3.2 amperes of electricity and 10.4 watts of power, outdoors in a sunny climate, in a one-square-meter formation. The leaves are flexible, light and considerably lower in efficiency than solid bulky, silicon-based solar panels. The new “leaves” are manufactured using a roll-to-roll process that is capable of producing up to 100 meters of layered film per minute.

Each leaf is both affordable and renewable. They consume very little raw materials and once the working life of the leaf, possibly a few years, has finished, the OPV panels can be recycled. The team at VTT is also developing a roll-to-roll manufacturing method that will use inorganic perovskite solar panels. This could open new applications for printable solar cells.

[Image via novini]

SOURCE: 3D Print