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Professor Paul Dastoor

Professor

School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Physics)

Shining light on organic electronics

Addressing global issues as diverse as the energy crisis, diabetes and mining safety, Professor Paul Dastoor and his team are at the forefront of the emerging field of organic electronics.

Professor Paul Dastoor Designing revolutionary devices such as solar paint and needle-free glucose tests, Professor Dastoor's innovations are set to improve the environment and lives of communities around the world.

Paint-on energy

Currently in the final stages of perfecting the process of printing water-based solar paint, Professor Dastoor and his team of 30 researchers at the University of Newcastle's Centre of Organic Electronics are about to start printing hundreds of metres of solar cells per day. They have also become the first in the world to build energy-efficient devices from water-soluble solar paint materials.

The greatest issue the world is facing is energy production. We have billions of people who have no access to energy or electrical power at all.

"How do we solve this issue? We capture the sun's energy through solar paint and turn our homes, cars and appliances into solar power stations."

Organic electronics deals with carbon-based electronic materials that are soluble in a variety of liquids. This makes them able to be dissolved into solutions, which can be printed, painted or sprayed onto different surfaces whilst still being able to conduct electrical charges.

Professor Dastoor first began experimenting with the class of plastics known as semiconducting polymers in the mid 1990s. By breaking the semiconducting materials down into tiny particles, Professor Dastoor developed a method of suspending them in water, which led to the concept of producing a solar paint or ink that could be applied to surfaces.

This ambition and ingenuity has captured the imagination of the general public, resulting in Professor Dastoor being part of the Australian TV 'New Inventors' Grand Final in 2011 with his solar paint technology.

The Centre of Organic Electronics, which Professor Dastoor is the Founder and Director of, also recently produced the highest-ever performance of solar paint cells at 2.5 to 3 per cent. The cells can already produce at lower light levels than existing solar-based silicon cells with installation costs approximately one-tenth of installing a silicon solar system.

"The sun provides us with many times the energy we need every day – we just don't use it. We are focusing on using up stored sunlight in the form of coal or oil. Our ability to dig something out of the ground and utilise it is diminishing rapidly," he said.

"Solar paint technology allows us to harvest that energy now. It's lighter, more flexible and less expensive."

"By removing the constraints provided by inflexible solar cells, we can open up acres of surfaces to harness the sun's energy more efficiently."

When painted across a roof, the cells produce enough electricity to power a household. Dastoor estimates that if the 2.2 million houses in NSW were to use these cells, it would be the equivalent to an entire power station.

Within the next six months, the Centre for Organic Electronics is also welcoming new infrastructure and equipment that will help build the next layers of the cells. A newly installed printer at the University's Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) has made it possible to print up to a hundred metres of solar cells a day. Professor Dastoor expects the first prototypes to be available within a year.

Pain-free testing for diabetics using bio-sensors

The same technology is also being adapted by the team to build a new generation of sensors for a range of industry sectors from health to mining and safety.

"Because we have developed paint with semi-conducting particles, we can now 'download' electronic designs, print them relatively cheaply from an inkjet printer and, in principle, build any electronic device."

"These materials are all carbon-based, so they are more related to our own chemistry than silicon-based materials that you see used in traditional electronic items like computers and mobile phones. This compatibility provides exciting opportunities for medical applications and we have been exploring ways we can integrate bio-molecules or chemical signatures into printed transistors."

"For example, we have now developed a saliva-based test of glucose levels for diabetic sufferers, potentially making blood tests a thing of the past. Our test is up to a hundred times more sensitive than current blood sensors and can be built from an inkjet printer."

"With predictions that there will be 500 million people with diabetes by 2020, this will have huge implications in the medical world and for communities around the world – one fantastic benefit being no more needles to test sugar levels."

"Sensors which can identify different chemical signatures have potential for applications in many other fields. Our team is currently designing what could become the first integrated explosion detonator system based on organic electronics that will improve mining safety and there has been interest in developing a food poisoning sensor, which can sense the chemical signature of bacteria like listeria or salmonella."

Making a fundamental difference

While the projects vary across different sectors, together they create a web of interconnected activities that springboard off each other.

"What makes the Centre for Organic Electronics and the University of Newcastle different to any other University is that we work from the fundamental and concept stage of physics and chemistry through to applied science then to pilot-scale and large-scale production – we do the whole project from start to finish."

"Many of the things we are doing on one project are interconnected and have implications for the other projects. This is displayed with the work we are doing with Cambridge University to build the world's first atom microscope, which has come about from our work on organic electronics.

"At the fundamental end of physics, we are currently at the birth of feasibility for a new technology. We hope to have images produced from the microscope within a year."

With a number of breakthroughs for all these projects expected to take place in the next six months, Professor Dastoor is making a fundamental difference to our organic electronic future.

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Professor Paul Dastoor

Shining light on organic electronics

Addressing global issues as diverse as the energy crisis, diabetes and mining safety, Professor Paul Dastoor and his team are at the forefront of the emerging field of organic electronics. Designing revolutionary devices such as solar paint and needle-free glucose…

Read more

Something new under the sun

The idea of a photovoltaic paint seemed like pure science fiction when Professor Paul Dastoor began investigating alternative solar energy technology 15 years ago.

Yet the physicist is now on the threshold of bringing to fruition a commercial-scale energy system based on solar cells that can be printed, and ultimately painted, onto surfaces.

Dastoor began experimenting with a class of plastics known as semiconducting polymers in the mid 1990s. While most polymers are electrical insulators, the conductive properties of this group of materials posed the prospect that they could be used in electronic devices such as photo-voltaics.

"Traditional silicon cell solar technology was very expensive then, and still is now, so the idea was to develop an alternative material that would be more cost-effective," Dastoor explains.

"I had read papers about semiconducting polymers and thought, naively, 'How hard can it be to build a polymer solar cell?'

"The answer: bloody difficult! Working out how to handle these materials and make them perform the way we wanted them to was a steep learning curve."

By breaking the semiconducting materials down to tiny particles, Dastoor developed a method of suspending them in water, which led to the concept of producing a solar paint or ink that could be applied to surfaces, such as plastic.

Dastoor then moved to the stage of fabricating solar cells onto a substrate, or base. The first rudimentary prototypes measured just two millimetres by two millimetres and could be produced with a common inkjet printer.

Now, a project that Dastoor started with one vacation student, hosts a team of 25 researchers and was the catalyst for the formation of the Centre for Organic Electronics, the field of study into conductive polymers.

The next step in Dastoor's solar paint research is building a customised printing machine capable of coating solar paint onto hundreds of metres of plastic sheeting. This plastic sheeting could be installed onto roofs of residential houses then wired to inverter boxes to produce electricity in the same way that conventional silicon solar panels operate.

"Our research indicates that a roll of this sheeting on a typical-sized roof of about 150 square metres will provide enough electricity for an average household," Dastoor says.

"However, the installation cost could be approximately one-tenth of installing a silicon solar system that produces the same amount of electricity."

Dastoor likens the basic construction of the solar sheeting - a metal coating on a plastic substrate with coloured ink printed on it - to that of a simple chip packet.

"And we make chip packets so cheaply that we throw them away when we are finished with them," he says, "which gives you an indication of how inexpensively we could manufacture this product."

Coating the solar cells onto plastic sheeting is the first step in realising the technology. Dastoor believes ultimately it will be possible to paint the conductive liquid directly onto a roof or wall, or even apply it as a window tint.

The new large-scale printing facility, funded by a $1 million grant from the Australian National Fabrication Facility, will begin operating later this year at the Newcastle Institute of Energy and Resources (NIER) site on the University campus and Dastoor is seeking $15 million investment to turn the promising lab results into a commercially viable product within three years.

The solar project will also benefit from collaboration between the Centre for Organic Electronics, of which Dastoor is the director, and the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle. The two entities have joined forces to establish a joint Research Centre for Organic Photovoltaics.

"One of the many exciting things about this technology is that it opens up the prospect of a new industry for Newcastle," Dastoor says.

"We sit at the head of the largest coal export port on the planet and yet we know we are not going to be able to mine this coal forever.

"What we are offering is low-cost, environmentally sustainable technology, being developed right here in this University, that could help this region and Australia make the transition to a more diverse, progressive economy."

Related links

Paul Dastoor

Something new under the sun

Professor Paul Dastoor's solar paint technology could turn every residential roof into an electricity generator.

Read more

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Professor Paul Dastoor

Position

Professor
Centre for Organic Electronics
School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Faculty of Science

Focus area

Physics

Contact Details

Email paul.dastoor@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5426
Fax (02) 4921 6907

Office

Room P123
Building Physics Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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