Paper-thin solar cell can turn any type of surface into a source of power

Dec 12, 2022 11:46 AM ET
  • MIT engineers have actually established ultralight fabric solar cells that can swiftly and also quickly turn any type of surface into a power source.
Paper-thin solar cell can turn any type of surface into a source of power
Image: Melanie Gonick, MIT

These durable, flexible solar cells, which are much thinner than a human hair, are glued to a solid, lightweight fabric, making them easy to install on a repaired surface. They can supply power on the go as a wearable power fabric or be moved as well as rapidly released in remote places for help in emergencies. They are one-hundredth the weight of conventional photovoltaic panels, generate 18 times much more power-per-kilogram, and also are made from semiconducting inks using printing processes that can be scaled in the future to large-area manufacturing.

Because they are so thin and lightweight, these solar cells can be laminated flooring onto several surface areas. For example, they could be integrated onto the sails of a boat to offer power while at sea, adhered onto tents and tarpaulins that are released in calamity healing operations, or used onto the wings of drones to extend their flying array. This lightweight solar technology can be conveniently incorporated into developed settings with minimal installment needs.

" The metrics utilized to evaluate a new solar cell modern technology are normally limited to their power conversion performance and their cost in dollars-per-watt. Just as vital is integrability-- the simplicity with which the new innovation can be adapted. The lightweight solar fabrics enable integrability, supplying impetus for the present work. We aim to increase solar adoption, given today immediate demand to release new carbon-free resources of power," says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Modern technology, leader of the Organic and also Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab), supervisor of MIT.nano, and also elderly author of a new paper explaining the work.

Joining Bulović on the paper are co-lead authors Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, an electrical design and computer science graduate student at MIT; as well as Jeremiah Mwaura, a study researcher in the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics. The research study is published today in Small Methods.

Slimmed down solar

Typical silicon solar cells are delicate, so they must be framed in glass as well as packaged in heavy, thick aluminum framing, which limits where and also how they can be deployed.

6 years ago, the ONE Lab group generated solar cells using an emerging course of thin-film materials that were so lightweight they can sit on top of a soap bubble. Yet these ultrathin solar cells were fabricated making use of complicated, vacuum-based processes, which can be pricey and challenging to scale up.

In this work, they set out to develop thin-film solar cells that are totally printable, making use of ink-based products and also scalable manufacture methods.

To produce the solar cells, they utilize nanomaterials that are in the form of a digital inks. Working in the MIT.nano clean area, they coat the solar cell structure making use of a slot-die coater, which transfers layers of the electronic materials onto a ready, releasable substratum that is just 3 microns thick. Making use of screen printing (a strategy comparable to just how designs are contributed to silkscreened T-shirts), an electrode is deposited on the structure to finish the solar module.

The scientists can then peel the printed module, which is about 15 microns in thickness, off the plastic substratum, forming an ultralight solar tool.

Yet such thin, freestanding solar modules are testing to manage and can quickly tear, which would certainly make them tough to deploy. To solve this challenge, the MIT group looked for a lightweight, flexible, and also high-strength substrate they could adhere the solar cells to. They recognized fabrics as the ideal service, as they supply mechanical durability and flexibility with little extra weight.

They found an excellent material-- a composite fabric that weighs just 13 grams per square meter, readily known as Dyneema. This fabric is made from fibers that are so solid they were utilized as ropes to raise the sunken cruise liner Costa Concordia from all-time low of the Mediterranean Sea. By adding a layer of UV-curable adhesive, which is just a few microns thick, they adhere the solar modules to sheets of this fabric. This develops an ultra-light and also mechanically durable solar structure.

" While it could show up simpler to simply print the solar cells directly on the fabric, this would certainly limit the choice of possible fabrics or other receiving surfaces to the ones that are chemically and also thermally suitable with all the processing actions required to make the gadgets. Our method decouples the solar cell manufacturing from its final combination," Saravanapavanantham clarifies.

Beating standard solar cells

When they evaluated the gadget, the MIT scientists found it might produce 730 watts of power per kg when freestanding and also regarding 370 watts-per-kilogram if deployed on the high-strength Dyneema fabric, which is about 18 times more power-per-kilogram than conventional solar cells.

"A normal rooftop solar setup in Massachusetts is about 8,000 watts. To produce that same quantity of power, our fabric photovoltaics would just include around 20 kgs (44 pounds) to the roofing system of a house," he says.

They also tested the durability of their tools as well as found that, even after rolling as well as spreading out a fabric solar panel more than 500 times, the cells still preserved greater than 90 percent of their preliminary power generation capacities.

While their solar cells are far lighter and a lot more flexible than standard cells, they would certainly need to be framed in another product to protect them from the setting. The carbon-based organic product used to make the cells could be changed by interacting with moisture as well as oxygen airborne, which might deteriorate their performance.

"Enclosing these solar cells in hefty glass, as is standard with the traditional silicon solar cells, would certainly reduce the value of today advancement, so the group is currently establishing ultrathin product packaging solutions that would only fractionally raise the weight of the present ultralight tools," says Mwaura.

"We are working to remove as much of the non-solar-active product as possible while still retaining the form aspect and also efficiency of these ultralight and flexible solar structures. As an example, we understand the manufacturing process can be more streamlined by printing the releasable substratums, equivalent to the process we utilize to fabricate the various other layers in our tool. This would increase the translation of this technology to the market," he includes.

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