Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratory have developed glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that promise to revolutionize solar power, being about ten times thinner than conventional solar cells. The researchers identified over 20 benefits of scale for these tiny cells over traditional solar cells, including more efficiency, better performance and low costs.
“Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.” said Greg Nielson, Sandia lead investigator.
Unlike the photovoltaic cells made from six-inch square cells, these solar particles made from crystalline silicon are expected to be less expensive, have greater efficiencies and have more applications. According to the research team the modules made from the photovoltaic cells could have intelligent controls, inverters and storage integrated at the chip level. Problems like grid integration processes and cumbersome design, currently experienced by solar technical assistance teams, could be reduced thanks to this integrated module.
The cells are ten times thinner than a conventional 6 x 6 inch solar module or just 14-20 micrometers thick, being capable to be used in large-scale power production. “So they use 100 times less silicon to generate the same amount of electricity. Since they are much smaller and have fewer mechanical deformations for a given environment than the conventional cells, they may also be more reliable over the long term.” said Sandia researcher, Murat Okandan.
Using a commercial machine called a pick-and-place, researchers can place up to 130,000 pieces of glitter cells per hour on electrical contact points pre-established on the substrate, reducing the cost of a module. According to the them, the cells can also be equipped with low cost solar concentrators to even better their efficiency.