First Silicon-based Optical Fiber With Solar Cell Properties

A scalable silicon-based optical fiber with capabilities of a solar-cell was developed by scientists at Penn State University. This innovation can serve as a stepping stone for creating flexible, twisted or curved solar fabrics.

In the next issue of the journal of Advanced Materials, the team led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry, will present their findings.

To achieve this, the group of scientists decided to take already established findings on merging optical fibers with electronic chips. Instead of merging a flat chip with a round optical fiber, however, they decided to build their own optical fiber. It has its own integrated electronic component, which automatically eliminates the need of integrating fiber-optic chips.

This same high-pressure chemistry technique used previously to make that optical fiber is now used to make a fiber out of crystalline silicon semiconductor materials that function as a solar cell. The aim is to optimize the use of high-performance electronic and solar-cell functions, according to Badding.

If successful, the number of applications where this silicon fibers, weaved together to form fabric, becomes significantly high. Chemical sensing, biomedical fields, power generation, battery charging, these are only a few of the industries that could benefit.

The short battery life is a major limitation of most portable devices. However, if these are solar-powered batteries, then the problem will disappear. In addition, as Badding explains, fiber-based solar cells, which are lightweighted, flexible and portable, could be connected to any device and aid the battery charging. This could be especially useful to the military who need portable power sources.

A main advantage is the ability of the cells to collect light at almost any condition and angle, unlike conventional cells, and they can have a very fast response to visible laser light.

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