Paper-thin solar cell turns any surface into a power source

MIT engineers have developed ultra-light fabric solar cells that can quickly and easily turn any surface into a power source.

Conventional silicon solar cells are fragile. They must therefore be encased in glass and packed in a heavy, thick aluminium frame, which limits their applications.

Now, researchers at MIT have developed thin-film solar cells that are fully printable. They use ink-based materials and scalable manufacturing techniques. This was reported by MIT in a press release.

These durable, flexible solar cells, which are much thinner than a human hair, are bonded to a strong, lightweight fabric so they can be easily attached to a solid surface. They can be used as a portable energy fabric to provide energy on the move or transported and quickly deployed to remote locations in emergencies. They weigh only one hundredth as much as conventional solar panels, generate 18 times more energy per kilogram and are made from semiconducting inks in a printing process that can be scaled up to large-scale manufacturing in the future.

Versatile use possible

Because they are so thin and light, these solar cells can be laminated to many different surfaces. For example, they could be integrated into the sails of a ship to provide power at sea, glued to tents and tarps used in disaster relief operations, or applied to the wings of drones to increase their flight range. This lightweight solar technology can be easily integrated into structural environments with minimal installation effort.

However: to protect them and maintain their performance, the solar cells need to be encased in a different material. Therefore, the team is currently developing ultra-thin packaging solutions that only slightly increase the weight of the current devices.

Written by: as

Photos: Melanie Gonick, MIT

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