Well trained creative young minds are the source of innovation; today we are celebrating a successful new project…
Years of study and research and an idea carried to completion thanks to an integrated work team in the Eni laboratories at the Research Centre for Renewable Energy and the Environment in Novara: Alessandra Cominetti is the winner of the award for young innovators under the age of 35 established by MIT-Technology Review Italia and by the Bologna Business School of the University of Bologna.
Lightweight and transportable photovoltaics
Let’s learn more about the project that earned her this prestigious award: Alessandra and the team she worked with have perfected the technology for organic solar panels (Organic PhotoVoltaics – OPV) and applied it to an inflatable solar system. The result is an entire photovoltaic system that is lightweight, robust and easy to transport. It’s a system that can be used even in locations that traditional silicon solar panels could never reach due to their weight and fragility.
OPV is an innovative thin film technology that uses organic compounds rather than silicon to generate electricity. This technology uses very thin layers of special inks to create single cells that can be combined into full modules and deposited on various surfaces using printing techniques similar to those used for the printing of ordinary colour magazines.
By printing onto a plastic film one obtains extremely lightweight and flexible solar panels that have a low environmental impact given that they can very rapidly cover the cost of production thanks to the electricity they generate. These new solar cells based on organic substances are so thin that – if we neglect the thickness of the film of plastic – thousands of layers would need to be printed one on top of the other to achieve the thickness of a sheet of paper.
However, a solar module cannot operate by itself: it requires transportation, positioning, orientation and a means of collecting the energy generated.
That’s where the second invention comes into play: by exploiting the extremely light weight of OPVs, Alessandra and her team designed and developed the first prototypes for an inflatable system. Thanks to its special prismatic shape, the panel’s orientation can be adjusted to achieve the best possible position for it to receive sunlight and produce energy. Additionally, these inflatable systems are extremely flexible and practical to use. In fact, they can float on water or be anchored to the soil by simply placing sand or stones into a pocket near the bottom of the kit.
Once again the winning formula was a blend of innovative ideas and great teamwork: the prize awarded to Alessandra is first and foremost a recognition of her work – testified to by scientific articles, patents and contributions to conferences – but it is also a recognition of the multidisciplinary team she belongs to.
We’re excited to see the next promising innovation that will help reveal the path to the technology of the future, one step at a time.
READ MORE: Beyond the solar panel by Amanda Saint