A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a technique to print durable, flexible solar cells that are thinner than human hair. These ultrathin solar cells weigh 100 times less than conventional solar cells while generating about 18 times more power per kilogram.
The science and other stuff to know
Conventional silicon solar cells are fragile. Thus, they must be encased in glass and packaged in heavy, thick aluminum framing, which often limits their versatility and applications.
But a group of researchers at MIT have figured out a way to print durable paper-thin solar cells that are both lightweight and flexible. According to a study published in Small Methods, these solar cells are made from semiconducting inks, are thinner than human hair, and can be glued to any surface, easily turning the surface into a power source.
On testing the paper-thin solar cells’ scalability, MIT researchers found it could generate up to 730 watts of power per kilogram when freestanding and about 370 watts per kilogram if deployed on the high-strength Dyneema fabric. That means, they can produce 18 times more power per kilogram than conventional solar cells.
When they tested the device’s durability, they found that the cells retained more than 90 percent of their initial power generation capabilities, even after rolling and unrolling fabric solar panels more than 500 times.
These thin, lightweight solar cells could have a myriad of potential applications. According to MIT, they can provide energy on the go as a wearable power fabric or be transported and deployed in remote locations for assistance in emergencies.
For instance, they can be integrated into boat sails, attached to the tent exteriors to generate power during disaster relief efforts, or affixed on drone wings to extend their potential flight times.
Despite the impressive design, this tech isn’t quite ready yet. The research team is still working to find the right material to encase the solar cells. Since the cells are made from carbon-based organic material, exposure to environmental elements such as moisture and oxygen could limit the device’s capabilities.