Welsh university teams up with steel giant to develop printed solar panels

Image credit: HQuality/Shutterstock

Swansea University researchers and Tata Steel UK have entered into a partnership that will seek to develop solar panels that can be printed onto buildings.

The two partners have signed a memorandum of understanding to launch the three-year research collaboration, which has been called STRIPS/Tata Steel Industrial Acceleration.

Swansea University will contribute expertise in manufacturing the printable cells, led by the SPECIFIC Innovation Centre; while Tata Steel will bring its expertise in coatings on steel, screen printing, and supply chains for materials.

The research

Whereas traditional solar cells are manufactured from silicon and require a lot of energy to produce, a new type of cell called a perovskite solar cell (PSC) is cheaper and lighter.

It can be made locally using widely available materials and manufacturing them uses less than half the carbon compared with a silicon cell, according to the university.

PSCs are also flexible rather than rigid, which means they can be printed, using techniques such as screen printing, directly onto materials such as coated steel.

The university said the process opened the door to creating innovative steel products, which have in-built solar-generating capabilities, for use in construction.

Professor Dave Worsley, head of Materials Science and Engineering at Swansea University, said: “This technology will help us tackle the energy crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

“The future is about solar energy technology being built in, not added on afterwards.

“These printable solar cells can be built into the fabric of our homes, shops and offices, allowing them to generate the power they need, and more besides.

“We know the concept works as we’ve demonstrated it in our Active Buildings in sunny Swansea.

“This new collaboration with Tata Steel will enable us to develop its potential more quickly, identifying new types of steel products that actively work to generate electricity.”

Sumitesh Das, Tata Steel UK’s R&D director, said: “We are buoyant with the possibilities that the perovskite technology brings to the table – especially in integration to the building and construction solutions – across different value streams in Tata Steel.

“The combination of a ‘green’ solar technology with steel is a significant step in our net-zero ambitions.

“We are excited by the positive effect such solutions can have on some of the poorest communities, who, through such technologies, could be taken out of fuel poverty.”

Image credit: HQuality/Shutterstock


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