Thin and Flexible Solar Cells: Solar Technology Takes Another Step Forward

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The solar industry continues to advance at an incredible pace and the technology is leaps and bounds beyond where it was just a few years ago. Solar cells are now much more efficient and becoming thinner which allows them to be used in a number of innovative new ways. And now, South Korean researchers have just developed new solar cells that are more than 50 times thinner than a human hair. 

These flexible prototype solar cells can even be wrapped around small objects providing power to equipment with short battery lives. This is a very big step forward for the solar industry as a whole since what normally comes to mind when solar cells are mentioned is broad panels that are anything but portable. However, these can even be wrapped around materials like fabric that don’t have a ridged shape.

“Our photovoltaic is about 1 micrometer think, – The thinner cells are less fragile under bending,” a statement made by Jongho Lee, one of the engineers that worked on the project at Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.

The prototype was designed to supply power to small batteries inside wearable devices but that could only be the beginning. If this technology was scaled up it could have a huge impact on how solar cells are utilized in a number of different industries. From planes to cars or even buildings all could eventually be wrapped in these thin and flexible solar cells to supply them with a constant stream of solar power. Instead of large scale industrial solar farms, individual businesses and people could be buying solar cells by the sheet and applying them to whatever they need to power.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook, – These cells could simply be an add-on to existing structures.” said Vladimir Bulovic, MIT professor that also worked on the project.

The way this system works is by using a process called transfer printing. They stamp cells right onto a flexible metal electrode without using an adhesive. Instead they cold welded them to the metal electrode using pressure and another layer of material that helps the solar cells stick to the electrode before it’s peeled off. This innovative idea keeps the cells extremely thin where as if they were to use an adhesive to attach the cells it would greatly increase its thickness.

Usually a typical issue with thin solar cells is that they are more prone to energy loss when compared to thicker solar panels. However, because they’re using a metal electrode to house the cells, stray particles are reflected back into the photovoltaic cells which improves its overall efficiency. These solar cells are just as efficient as those that are three times as thick. So not only are they extremely thin, relatively speaking they are also incredibly efficient.

It will be interesting to see how businesses and individuals react to this new technology once and if it becomes commercially available. Right now these cells are still in the prototype stage of development. Just like with any new technology the applications will only be limited by the imagination of the user. We will keep an eye on the progression of these thin solar cells and keep you updated on their progress, so check back soon for more developments.