The currently used modern solar panel has been around for over 70 years, however, their basic design has been the same all this while. Nevertheless, solar panels’ efficiency has significantly improved over the years. With the emergence of nanotechnology, scientists have been working to advance its design and capabilities.
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Towards this, MIT scientists have engineered ultralight fabric solar cells that could revolutionize the clean energy industry. What sets them apart is the ability of these newly designed solar cells to convert any surface into a power source.
Related: Are ultra-thin solar cells the future of solar energy?
The team has been working on this technology for several years, trying to find a suitable material. And they found a unique way of producing these solar cells, which are thinner than human hair. They used printable electronic inks for this. This technique is similar to how designs are printed on t-shirts.
It was a step-by-step procedure that began with printing the electrodes on a flat plastic sheet. The sheet then adhered to a fabric known as Dyneema. The final step was to peel away the fabric that had allowed the electrode to settle, leaving a plastic sheet behind.
Dyneema fabric was specifically chosen for this purpose due to its strength while weighing only 13 grams per square meter. According to the team, this material is frequently used to make items such as bullet-proof vests. Furthermore, these paper-thin solar cells weigh 100 times less than traditional, bulky solar panels and produce 18 times more power per kilogram.
This sleek, light design has several advantages because it is simple to deploy and transport — especially in remote locations for emergencies. Additionally, the fabric can be easily laminated onto a variety of surfaces (metal or plastic), such as an outdoor tent, a boat’s sail or the wings of a drone. The team claims that these solar cells required minimal installation and that they can be easily scaled to large-area manufacturing in the future.
“The lightweight solar fabrics enable integrability, providing impetus for the current work. We strive to accelerate solar adoption, given the present urgent need to deploy new carbon-free sources of energy,” said Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Technology, leader of the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab), director of MIT.nano. In a paper published in the journal Small Methods, MIT scientists described the new solar cells in detail.
As the demand for clean energy grows, this new innovation could help make solar energy more accessible and portable in the coming years.
Via MIT News
Images via Melanie Gonick, MIT