The flexible, organic solar cells are environmentally friendly and can be manufactured without solvents

Hannover Messe preview: plastic solar cells glowing foil 3D printed implants

Environmentally-friendly solar cells made of plastic, modular scalable battery packs for renewables, electroluminescent foil and new high-performance polymers for 3D printers are some of the technologies that will be demonstrated at Hannover Messe later this month.

Hannover Messe is the world’s largest industrial show This year’s theme, ‘Integrated Industry – Discover Solutions’, is looking at ways of making industry smart using digital technology - or 'Industry 4.0'.

Many of the latest advanced technologies for use in manufacturing and energy systems are set to be demonstrated at the event.

For the first time in the event’s history, the United States will act as the official partner country for Hannover Messe. US President Barack Obama is set to attend and will join German Chancellor Angela Merkel at official opening ceremony on Sunday, 24 April.

Different teams from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany are attending to present a range of technologies designed to improve future energy supplies, lighting, and lightweight construction.

The products below are previews of what is set to be unveiled in more detail at the event:

Environmentally friendly solar cells

The Kit team will demonstrate organic solar cells made from plastic that have many advantages over conventional inorganic cells.

“They are light, mechanically flexible, and can be produced in many colours. Thus, they open up a variety of applications,” Dr. Alexander Colsmann of KIT’s Light Technology Institute explained.

Current organic solar cell technology uses solvents to create the layers of light-absorbing organic semiconductors necessary in their production that cause damage to the environment.

But these organic cells are created using an environmentally friendly coating process that is more energy and material efficient allowing manufacturing costs to be reduced. They also reach about the same efficiency as conventional organic solar cells.

Battery pack welding

Large energy storage solutions are often cited as a prerequisite to allow fluctuating renewable energy production from wind or the aforementioned solar cells to completely replace fossil fuels or nuclear generation.

The KIT researchers have developed a new welding process that can be used to interconnect cells and high-performance battery packs.

The manufacturing technique uses a robot that allows for the assembly of modular, scalable battery packs that can be easily sized up to meet the particular demands of a renewable energy facility.

“The automated robot production line ensures reliable and efficient welding of battery cells. Our focus lies on consistently high process quality and on production speed and flexibility,” Dr. Olaf Wollersheim of KIT’s Competence E Project explained.

The process has an overall welding time per battery pack of eight spherical cells of less than one minute. The batteries can then be interconnected to create battery systems with a high storage capacity.

Electroluminescent foil to make any object glow

Conventional electroluminescent (EL) foils are already in existence that can be applied to flat surfaces easily, but they can only be bent to a certain degree.

A newly developed process allows for direct printing of electroluminescent layers onto three-dimensional components and curved surfaces.

“In conventional EL carrier foils, the luminescent material is located between two plastic layers. By means of our new printing process, the luminescent material is printed directly onto the object without any intermediate carrier,” Dr. Rainer Kling of the Light Technology Institute of KIT said.

It allows curved surfaces and spheres made of various materials such as paper or plastic to be made luminescent.

The components could be used to enhance safety in buildings in case of power failures, for displays and watches, or for decorative purposes such as brightly lit wallpaper.

3D printing with high-performance polymers

The materials used in vehicles and manufacturing machines have to survive high loads in terms of temperature extremes, shocks and friction.

This generally makes traditional 3D printing an unsuitable medium for creating machine parts in these industries.

But a KIT team has developed a high-performance polymer, polyetheretherketone or PEEK, that is fit for 3D printing by fused filament fabrication.

“Our specially developed printer produces a layered structure of high temperature and mechanical stability,” said managing director on the project Tony Tran-Mai.

The material can be used in both automotive and mechanical engineering, as well as electrical engineering and the semiconductor industry.

It could also have medicinal uses such as fabricating implants or prostheses that are tailored to the bodies of individual patients.

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