Monash researchers are at the forefront of efforts to develop a new generation of solar cells that are lighter, cheaper and able to be embedded in future roofing materials.

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Within five years home builders could be installing solar collectors on their roofs as simply as installing sheets of roofing iron.

The concept is a step change from current photovoltaic technology and takes advantage of the latest developments in polymer bank note printing, normally used to foil counterfeiters.

A collaboration between Monash, the CSIRO, bank note printer Securency and industry partners like Bluescope Steel, aims to produce cost-effective, large-area solar cells that can be built into off-the-shelf roofing products.

In February this year prototypes made of thin plastic and printed like money rolled off Securency's presses in outer Melbourne.

The significance of this technology is that it does not use silicon, which is expensive to produce. The researchers hope that by using commonplace carbon-based organic materials, laid into the polymers, manufacturers will be able to produce cost-effective solar collectors for Australians who want to produce their own electricity.

Faculty of Science Federation Fellow Professor Doug MacFarlane said the potential of the technology was enormous.

"The cells would be embedded into roofing products that your builder would buy at the hardware store. Solar cells would be an integral part of the roofing. All that would have to be done to produce household electricity would be hook the sheet up to an inverter to step up the voltage. When you were not using electricity you would be sending power into the grid and getting a credit for it."

Dr Udo Bach from the Faculty of Engineering said the printable cell technology offered many advantages over current solar panel technology. They were lightweight and easily transportable, flexible and cheap to make.

"Because they are partially transparent they can be installed almost anywhere, including on the roofs of homes and cars or on windows or glass panels. The cells also float, allowing them to cover pools or dams, reducing evaporation while also generating energy."

Professor MacFarlane and Dr Bach are part of the $12 million Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium, which is half funded by the Victorian Government. Other partners and financial contributors are the CSIRO, the University of Melbourne, Securency, BP Solar, Bluescope Steel and Merck.

Dr Bach is the project leader and can be contacted at: