World-first solar cell technology created at the University of Newcastle has been installed at one of Sydney's newest urban green spaces.
Created by physicist Paul Dastoor, the organic printed solar cells are printed on a ultra-lightweight material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet.
The material now lies at the heart of a solar arbour, part of Lane Cove Counci's recently opened Canopy urban space project.
The 60 square metres of material generates enough electricity to power a motion-activated lighting system.
The project follows a successful trial of the material on the roof of Beresfield-based logistics company CHEP two years ago.
"This is the first public installation of the solar material that we have developed. For the first time the public can come and see it and touch it and feel it and really understand how it works," Professor Dastoor said.
Lane Cove Council, which is striving to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2036, approached Professor Dastoor in late 2018 about the possibility of using the material for the canopy project.
"It does all the things that conventional silicone can't; they didn't want standard PV solar cells there they wanted it to be functional and to do something for the public," professor Dastoor said.
Unlike previous applications, the solar arbour project required the solar cells to be encased in acrylic to increase durability.
"For a rooftop installation we wouldn't do that, but now we need to make it so kids can kick it and jump on it and it won't be damaged. It was also a challenge in terms of creating something that was aesthetically pleasing," Professor Dastoor said.
Visitors will also be treated to a one-on-one augmented reality experience featuring Professor Dastoor when they point their mobile phone at a QR code embedded into the structure.
"Compared to familiar energy technologies, this material has almost a surreal quality. As this will be the first time people interact with this material unaccompanied, we wanted to create a way for one of our Centre for Organic Electronics scientists to be there to provide interpretation," Professor Dastoor said.
The material, which has been in development for 17 years, delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.
With unprecedented interest in global interest in printed solar technology, Professor Dastoor and his team have their sights set on the establishment of an advanced manufacturing facility, possibly in the Hunter.
"We have a world-class manufacturing facility at the University's Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), which has been generously supported by the Australian National Fabrication Facility. This print facility can manufacture hundreds of metres of material a day, however we're now reaching the point where we need to significantly scale this level of production," Professor Dastoor said.
"As a diverse team of physicists, chemists, engineers and educators, we're considering not just the scaling of material production, but the education and training framework that will wrap around the industry to train and retrain an entirely new workforce.
Professor Dastoor said he was hopeful the public installation would prompt further discussion on the subject of energy as the federal government considered submissions to its technology investment roadmap.
"The government is seeking to bring down carbon emissions over the next 30 years and the community has been very engaged on this subject. Globally, there are many research groups like ours working on sustainable energy technologies and now, via the technology investment roadmap, is our opportunity to ensure we invest in and deliver clever solutions," he said.
Institute for Energy and Resources director Alan Broadfoot said the university was committed to bringing the world closer to a sustainable future through its next generation resources engagement priority.
"The printed solar project highlights the transformational research coming out of NIER through valued partnerships with government, industry, and the community in critical areas such as new energy technologies," Professor Broadfoot said.
Lane Cove Council general manager Craig Wrightson said: "Council knows we need new technologies to help achieve our zero emissions targets. What better way to show our support of this innovative solar solution than showcasing it in a community space for all to see".
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