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Super-Light Solar Cell Made

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 08:46AM

Miniaturization has been essential for many technologies to succeed and achieve ubiquity. Integrated circuits are one example as many of us are walking around with small computers in our pockets. In the future we may see solar cells become just as common, thanks to researchers at MIT who have developed a manufacturing process that can make cells so small and light that they will pop bubbles when placed on them.

While a great deal of focus might be on the tiny solar cells, it is the process that is the real accomplishment here. What the researchers figured out was how to grow the substrate, the solar cell, and the protective overcoating all in one process. It also can be done in a vacuum chamber at room temperature, unlike conventional solar cells that require high temperatures and harsh chemicals. This makes the manufacturing much easier and safer. The process starts with a carrier material, glass in this case, that a film of parylene, a somewhat common plastic coating, is grown on to serve as the substrate. The light-absorbing layer of DBP, an organic material, is deposited on the substrate and then another layer of parylene is put on top, protecting the cell from the environment. Once the process is done, it can be lifted off of the glass, producing a light, thin, and flexible solar cell.

At such a small size, these solar cells do not produce much power, but then this is a proof of concept that can work with other, better materials. Still, these solar cells have a tremendous power to weight ratio of 6 Watts per gram, which far surpasses the 15 W per Kilogram for silicon based modules. Potentially we could see these lightweight cells used in aerospace missions, where weight is an issue, or used to laminate existing structures, since the solar cells can be easily bent to match unusual surfaces.

Source: MIT

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