Most people envision solar panels as dark panels that cover a roof or are spread out over the land, trying to collect as much light as possible. Researchers are working to change that image though by developing new kinds of solar cells that are flexible instead, so they can be placed anywhere. Often these flexible cells are also expensive to make and are less efficient for their flexibility, but researchers at the Stanford University have successfully developed a solar cell, which is not only cheap to make but can be applied to surfaces like a sticker.
To create the solar cell the researchers start with a layer of nickel on top of a silicon dioxide substrate. The thin-film photoelectric material is applied next, followed by a protective polymer, and ultimately a thermal release tape on top. After fabricating the cell on the substrate, it is submerged in warm water, which causes the tape to peel up partially and the water to separate the cell from the substrate. After heating the cell to 90 ºC it is ready to be applied to a surface using an adhesive, like double-sided tape, and having the thermal release tape removed.
The researchers have successfully created and placed these thin-film solar cells to plastic, paper, and glass already, and the process has not impaired the photoelectric material efficiency. The process also leaves almost no waste as typically the substrate is undamaged and can be reused, which will help keep manufacturing costs down. Of course the manufacturing costs are already down with this design because it can be done without modifying existing facilities.