Feb.25, 2013

In the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called 3D Printing a technology that has "the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything". "A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." 3D printing has been used in practically every industry that you can think of. It can be used to build pretty much anything, and John J Licata from Guardian thinks 3D printing could revolutionize the solar industry.

I believe this new printing medium could be a game-changer as 3D solar cells, despite advances in energy storage, can capture more sunlight than conventional PV models. How? They are more precise (using copper, indium, gallium, selenide: CIGS), less complex and weigh less.... Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe 3D solar panels could be roughly 20% more efficient than flat solar panels. 3D printing can extend the amount of solar absorbed into cells, which may turn some haters of solar power into believers.


A team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach of arranging solar cells: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations.

The basic physical reason for the improvement in power output — and for the more uniform output over time — is that the 3-D structures' vertical surfaces can collect much more sunlight during mornings, evenings and winters, when the sun is closer to the horizon, says co-author Marco Bernardi, a graduate student in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE).

(Photo: Allegra Boverman)

Another benefit is cost. While installation is the dominate cost for solar power, it is estimated that precision 3D printing could drop production costs by 50% by eliminating many of the inefficiencies associating with the waste of costly materials such as glass, polysilicon or even indium. The ability to control the material inputs of your finished solar product would further turn traditional manufacturing of PV on its head by creating more of an on-demand model that doesn't require fabrication at distant warehouses. The fact 3D printing can take place just about anywhere should mitigate the lofty shipping costs which also deters positive views toward traditional flat PV.

It is still difficult to see the cost of 3D solar panels is going to be lower than mass production. But 3D printing has the ability to create flexible solar panels at a lighter weight, which allows it to be used on wearable hi-tech clothing, radios and future electronics. Well, the future is bright but the road is hard - still a long way to go before 3D printing really revolutionise the solar energy industry. Read the full article here.








Posted in 3D printing applications

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