You Can Put Solar on Anything These Days

Those brainiacs at MIT have done it again! An article in MIT News on July 11 reported that a team of researchers, led by Professor of Chemical Engineering Michael Kasser and Professor of Electrical Engineering Vladimir Bulović , have created a process that allows them to print solar cells as cheaply and easily as a word document on your inkjet printer.

Graduate student Miles Barr hold a flexible and foldable array of solar cells that have been printed on a sheet of paper. Photo: Patrick Gillooly via MIT News

This new technique represents a major step in how photovoltaic cells are created, allowing producers to literally turn paper and fabric into power producing materials. The new process utilizes vapors, not liquids, and lower temperatures and these “gentle” conditions make it possible to use ordinary untreated paper, cloth or plastic instead of more expensive materials. The ease and low cost of production create a very exciting prospect for future commercial use as well.

“We have demonstrated quite thoroughly the robustness of this technology,” Bulović says in the MIT article. “[W]e think we can fabricate scalable solar cells that can reach record-high watts-per-kilogram performance. For solar cells with such properties, a number of technological applications open up,” he says.

Just imagine the possibilities! Stacks of fabric solar cells shipped off to developing nations; affordable plastic solar arrays that are easily replaced if damaged; solar sweatpants that charge your cell phone in the pocket as you lounge in your solar lawn chair!

All of this sounds fantastic, but unfortunately, the cells produced by MIT researchers only have an efficiency of around 1%.  However, Kasser and Bulović’s team are working on producing cells with a higher efficiency that will hopefully provide the opportunity for more extensive applications. In the meantime though, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for those solar sweatpants.

Want to see the paper solar cell in action? Check out the link below!


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