Living Solar Panels Printed on Wallpaper Harvest Sun's Energy by Photosynthesis

solar panel printable wallpaper print battery
The wallpaper bio-solar panel could also be used to monitor air quality in the home. Imperial College London

A new type of ultra-thin solar panel made from living organisms could lead to next-generation electrical devices that can be made on a home printer, researchers say.

A team of scientists from Imperial College London and Central Saint Martins, also in London, created a bio-solar panel using a micro-organism called cyanobacteria, which uses photosynthesis to harvest energy from sunlight.

By using the cyanobacteria as an ink, they can be printed onto paper alongside electrically conductive carbon nanotubes using an off-the-shelf inkjet printer. Potential applications of these bio-solar panels include paper-based diabetes monitors and air quality sensors that resemble wallpaper.

The solar bio-battery is part of a new type of renewable energy research known as microbial biophotovoltaics (BPV), which make use of cyanobacteria and other photosynthetic algae to convert light into electricity.

solar panel printable photosynthesis wallpaper
The bio-solar panel can be disguised as wallpaper. Imperial College London

Using an off-the-shelf inkjet printer significantly reduces the cost of producing BPVs and makes scaling up the technology much easier.

"Paper-based BPVs are not meant to replace conventional solar cell technology for large-scale power production, but instead could be used to construct power supplies that are both disposable and biodegradable," said Andrea Fantuzzi, one of the study's co-authors from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London.

"Their low power output means they are more suited to devices and applications that require a small and finite amount of energy, such as environmental sensing and biosensors."

The research follows a recent breakthrough in see-through solar cell technology that could see windows, cell phones and other objects with a transparent surface transformed into solar panels.

The ultra-thin solar panels could make their way into commercial applications, such as being retrofitted into skyscrapers, within the next few years. The technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.

Read more: Transparent solar panels could harvest energy from windows and eventually replace fossil fuels.

The paper-based BPVs developed by the researchers are still a way off commercialization and are currently the size of a post-it note. The next step is to scale them up to an A4-sized device and following this proof-of-concept the challenge will be creating panels that are more powerful, longer lasting and robust.

"We think our technology could have a range of applications such as acting as a sensor in the environment," said Marin Sawa, a co-author from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London.

"Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment."