Scientists Create Solar Cells As Light As Soap Bubbles

Posted: Feb 28 2016, 11:41am CST | by , Updated: Feb 28 2016, 11:46am CST, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Create Solar Cells as Light as Soap Bubbles
Solar cell is as light as a soap bubble. Credit: MIT

MIT researchers has achieved the thinnist and lightest complete solar cells ever made

Solar cells are usually made of materials like silicon or polymer. But these traditional solar cells could become a thing of past after the arrival of new ultrathin solar cells.

MIT researchers are able to create the thinnest, flexible and lightest solar cells ever made. These solar cells are so thin that they can be placed on almost any material or surface from hat, shirt, smartphone to even a sheet of paper.

Though it may take years to develop a product that can be used for commercial proposes but certainly it is a giant leap in the right direction.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook,” said Vladimir Bulovic, lead researcher and a professor at MIT. “These cells could simply be an add-on to existing structures.” 

The key to the new approach is to cut down on the number of steps needed to make a solar cell such as add the substrate that supports the cell and the overcoating that protects it from the environmental damage at the same time when the device is being developed.

To solve this problem, researchers used a flexible polymer called parylene as an over coating and an organic material DBP to work as a shield against light and dust particles. Once these materials are placed on solar cells, they never need to be cleaned or removed anytime during the making. 

The whole process takes place in vacuum chamber and at room temperature. This is different from conventional solar cells which require high temperatures and harsh chemicals for production.

“We put our carrier in a vacuum system, then we deposit everything else on top of it, and then peel the whole thing off.” Research scientist Annie Wang explains.

The final product was ultrathin just one-fiftieth of the thickness of a human hair yet it was able to convert sunlight into electricity just as efficiently as its standard counterparts.

To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the new solar cells are, researchers put a working cell on the top of a soap bubble and it did not crack. If the cell would be hard, it must have burst it.

The lightweight solar cells are currently in their early state of making and researchers are working on them to improve their efficiency so that they can help power the next generation of solar panels. 

“The demonstration by MIT team is almost an order of magnitude thinner and lighter,” said Max Shtein, a professor of material sciences and engineering at University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research.

“This is very high-quality work with a creative concept, careful experimental set up, very well written paper and lots of good contextual information. The overall recipe is simple enough that I could see scale-up as possible.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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