Scientist develops ultra-thin solar cells
by David Masters
May 27, 2009
Ultra-thin low-cost solar cells could one day be built in to clothing, tents and windows.
Researchers have discovered a way to develop miniature, flexible, semi-transparent solar panels that could be placed almost anywhere to collect the sun’s energy.
Developed by Illinois University professor John A. Rogers over a five year period, the panels have been licensed by North Carolina-based semi-conductor maker Semprius, and a pilot run of the modules will be manufactured later this year.
Traditional solar cells, as seen on roofs, use silicon semiconductors to convert the sun’s rays into electricity.
However, silicon is heavy and inflexible, making it difficult to create ultra-thin solar panels.
Rogers solved this problem by developing a new fabrication process that creates very thin slices of silicon, one tenth the thickness of standard semiconductors.
Rogers also worked out a stamp-printing method for integrating the solar panels with flexible materials such as plastics and textiles.
As well as making solar panels more flexible and usable, Rogers’s technique significantly reduces the cost of production – meaning that inexpensive solar cells could soon be available to everyday consumers.
Car-makers have already approached Semprius about using the solar modules for car sunroofs.
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