The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed ultra-thin solar cells that can be affixed to almost any surface. These cells, thinner than human hair, can be applied to various surfaces such as boat sails, tents in disaster relief efforts, or drone wings to increase their operational range.
The breakthrough involves using electronic printable inks, similar to the process used in t-shirt printing. The researchers faced the challenge of handling delicate solar cells prone to tearing. To address this, they chose Dyneema Composite Fabric, known for its exceptional strength, as a material that is light, flexible, and durable to support solar cells.
The process includes printing electrodes onto a plastic sheet, adhering it to the Dyneema fabric, and then removing the fabric, leaving behind a pristine plastic sheet. This separation of manufacturing and application allows for more flexibility in choosing compatible materials.
Although these cells produce only half the energy per unit area compared to conventional silicon panels, they excel in power-to-weight ratio, generating 18 times more power per kilogram. In tests, the cells produced approximately 730 watts per kilogram when freestanding and around 370 watts per kilogram when applied to Dyneema fabric.
The goal of this research is to enhance the accessibility and portability of solar energy, especially in areas where traditional panels are impractical. The researchers envision a paradigm shift in the deployment and manufacturing speed of solar cells, potentially as fast as printing a newspaper. This advancement could transform the way solar energy is harnessed and utilized, providing a promising future for clean and renewable energy.