Silicon photovoltaic cells are preferred in today’s market conditions and technological implementations because they are cheap, silicon is abundant and the ongoing research has made them more and more efficient. Still, manufacturing the PV cells is very energy consuming, and silicon PVs are very fragile and prone to breaking in the most mildly hostile situations (hailstorms).
Researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, led by prof. John A. Rogers has devised and put to action a technique to make efficient flexible solar cells by printing them on very thin and flexible plastic surfaces. These new cells could be rolled tightly onto a pencil without doing them any damage. Semprius, a semiconductor company in Durham, N.C., expects to begin a project making these solar cells within a year.
The team’s work is combining techniques that he and his colleagues have developed for making flexible electronics over the past five years. The thin solar cells are imprinted on semiconductor wafers using a standard lithographic technique, and then they are transferred by a soft rubber stamp onto another material.
The sticky surface of the stamp “picks up the cells,” said dr. Rogers, “and now your stamp is inked with these silicon cells. Then we use the stamp to print them on, for instance, a sheet of plastic.”
Possible used for this solar cell technology could be printing on glass, plastics, flexible cloth materials, and theoretically anything you could imagine. That would give endless opportunities for carmakers to implement solar cells on their cars, and small gadgets would never have their battery depleted while it’s sunny outside.