Skip to content


3D Printed Panels, Giant Glass Spheres and Solar Energy—Oh My!

glass-marbleThe buzz around solar energy is reaching a fever pitch—and it’s been great for young engineers looking to make their mark in the business world.

New ideas for capturing and storing the sun’s energy have been popping up left and right; from solar highways to solar-electric cars, even to see-through solar harvesting panels!

Now, there are two more engineered designs that are sure to take solar power to the next level. One is a solar panel that is sure to get our 3D printing fans another reason to love engineering. And the other is a giant glass marble from Germany that is seeing into the future!

Imagine being able to print your own solar panels on a 3D printer at home. That’s what researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia have been working on since 2007, and it looks like they are one step closer to turning this idea into a reality. According to ABC News, the team has created printable, plastic solar panels that can be used to power everything from laptops to rooftops.

“iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone – [they’re] not just for casing electronics but to collect some energy as well and power those electronics,” says Dr. Fiona Scholes, senior research scientist at CSIRO and a partner on the 3D printed solar panels project. “The way in which it looks and works is quite different to conventional silicon rooftop solar,” she said. “It can be made to be semitransparent – we can use it for a tinted window scenario. That [could make] it perfect for powering up a skyscraper.”

The printers that made these solar cells were specially designed to take “solar ink,” which is then printed onto plastic sheets. The team is now looking at ways to convert this solar ink into a spray that can be used to coat buildings. “We would like to improve the efficiency of solar panels,” says Dr. Scholes. “We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come.”

As if that story wasn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, there’s another solar energy story out of Germany that is sure to take the renewable energy initiative by storm! Architect André Broessel has created a spherical sun-tracking solar energy-generating globe—essentially, it’s a giant glass marble on a robotic steel frame. But according to, this marble is no toy. It can concentrate both sunlight and moonlight up to 10,000 times — making it 35 percent more efficient at solar harvesting than normal solar panels.

“For the last 40 years we have tried to capture this energy with [solar] panels,” Broessel says in the promotional video on his Indiegogo campaign for his company, Rawlemon.“But the earth is moving around the sun, and the fixed panel is losing its efficiency. We can squeeze more juice out of the sun.”

The glass orb can rotate and follow the sun, bringing in energy and concentrating it onto a small surface of tiny solar panels. The ball lens is able to concentrate and diffuse light on one small focal point, making it more sustainable and more efficient. And as if it weren’t enough that this machine is highly efficient, powerful, and good for the environment, it’s also really cool to look at—like something out of a sci-fi movie!

Both of these projects are great signs that innovation is taking off around the world and that young entrepreneurs and engineers are looking forward to a greener planet as well. As Stanford University’s associate director on energy and sustainable development Mark Thurber told the Wall Street Journal back in April, “the most intriguing renewable energy technologies are those that have the most room to improve.” And these two stories are definitely improving on the solar energy front—in more ways than one!

photo credit:

Posted in Blog.

Tagged with , , , , .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.