When it comes to solar cells, it helps to be flexible – literally. Thin, flexible cells exist although they usually fall short in terms of how efficient they are, how much they cost, etc. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, have recently developed a cell that is both flexible and powerful.
John Rogers, a materials science professor who led the multi-discipline research, has come up with a process of slicing conventional silicon into thin pieces that can be imprinted onto a flexible surface. The result: efficient silicon-based solar cells flexible enough to wrap around a pencil and so transparent it can be used to tint building or car windows. The silicon cells are just one-tenth the thickness of conventional cells and, according to Technology Review, they have about an efficiency of 12% - not too shabby considering that the best cells on the market get 20% efficiency. The findings were reported in the journal Nature Materials this week.
“We can make it thin enough that we can put it on plastic to make a rollable system,” said Professor Rogers in an interview with Reuters. “It opens up spaces on the fronts of buildings as opportunities for solar energy.” Other applications for the thin, rollable solar cells include powering the AC or GPS in a car.
Essentially, Professor Rogers’ cells use the same technology found in standard large, bulky PV units; it is the small size that accounts for their improved properties. They can therefore be manufactured using the same monocrystalline silicon available for their macro-sized cousins. Professor Rogers’ research has been licensed to a Durham, North Carolina company called Semprius Inc.
Photo credit: John Rogers
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