As electronics become smarter, better, more sophisticated, and more energy demanding, the interest in energy sources that can provide power on-the-go increases exponentially.
Scientists, engineers and developers race to develop better, more efficient, and of course sleeker technology, that can ultimately provide more energy cheaply and effectively.
Solar cells have been the subject of quite a lot of attention over the recent years. Their integration in pretty much any smart gadget has become the ultimate aim for many, simply because solar power is everywhere, and therefore can be tapped into at any point necessary. Although we have observed quite huge improvements in the technology, solar cells still remain somehow bulky and not very attractive to be worn proudly around, on a jacket or a handbag for example.
This, however, is very likely to change soon, as a team of researchers from the MIT developed the thinnest and lightest flexible solar cells. In fact, the technology is so sleek, that it could even be attached to a helium balloon, without preventing it from floating around.
With their remarkable proof-of-concept, the team demonstrated that these new cells are a perfectly feasible product that can revolutionize wearable electronics.
According to Vladimir Bulovi, the professor from MIT, who is behind the technology, the key is to produce all components of the cell in one process. These include the solar cell itself, the supporting substrate and the protective overcoating. The substrate is developed and fixed in a way that it does not need to be removed from the vacuum during fabrication at all. This prevents it from getting dirty, meaning that no pollutant or dust can interfere with the solar cell performance.
To demonstrate the feasibility of the technology, the team used the well-known flexible polymer- parylene as a substrate and as an overcoating. The light absorbing layer in between was made of DBP organic material. The fabrication was done in a vacuum chamber, at a room temperature. Unlike the process of fabrication of conventional solar cells, here chemical or energy demanding solvents were not required. Instead, a special vapor deposition technique was used to “grow” both the solar cell and the substrate.
The product is so thin that apparently can be blown away by a person’s breath. In fact, it is just as light as a soap bubble. The power-to-weight ratio of this cell is the highest that has ever been achieved, although the initial proof-of-concept technology is not the most efficient.
To turn this into a commercially viable product, the team has quite a bit of work to carry out in the lab. Nevertheless, they demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to produce such thin and light solar cell, that can generate power without even being noticed.
Further details on the technology can be found in the paper published by the team in the journal Organic Electronics.
Image (c) Joel Jean and Anna Osherov