Print me a sheet of solar cell, Please!

Solar Cell

Just imagine folding a sheet of a solar panel into a kiddie aeroplane or using a small solar sheet to electrify powerful gadgets around the house? Sounds amazing but impossible, doesn’t it! But that’s what an MIT News press release claims to have invented, making it possible to produce photovoltaic cells on paper or fabric looking very much alike to a printed sheet of paper.

The foldable array of solar cells looks exactly like a shining printed paper just ejected out of an inkjet printer with square pixels demonstrating the varying shades of colours. But as you have a closer look at the sheet, get amazed by the printed solar cells efficient enough to power an electronic gadget. The cheap, solar sheet can be folded and kept in the pocket to be watched again as it derives electricity from the sunlight.

The solar cell has been created on a delicate sheet using special inks deposited on the paper. Developed by a team of MIT researchers, the technique is quite different from regular solar cell technology which requires exposing the substrates to conceivably damaging high temperatures or liquids. However, in this technology, MIT researchers have used vapours and temperatures less than 120° C. It has made possible the printing of solar cells on any untreated fabric, cloth, or plastic used as a substrate. Actually, for a layman, the process is very understandable if compared to the silver lining inside a potato chips bag which applies a vapour-deposition process.

The solar cells function even when folded multiple times. Just to demonstrate, the researchers printed a solar cell on a PET plastic bottle folding-unfolding it 1,000 times. Solar cells still performed well with no significant decrease in performance. In contrast, a commercial cell on the same material failed after just a single fold.

Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, Vladimir Bulović said that the strong physical makeup of these new solar cells compared to conventional ones can be fabricated to accomplish higher levels of performance. Also, the cost of inactive components in these cells is comparatively cheaper to the glass substrates used presently to support active photovoltaic material. The ability to print solar cells on readily available materials such as paper or cloth cuts the costs to about one-thousandth of the given area.

Currently, the efficiency of the solar cells is only 1%, but the researchers believe that it can be increased with fine-tuning of the materials. But in the present situation, the solar cells provide enough power with a small electric gizmo.

Folding a solar cell into an aeroplane

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