Printable solar cells that can be folded up when not in use

Here’s a photovoltaic cell that can be printed onto paper. The manufacturing technique is almost as simple as using an inkjet printer. The secret is in the ink itself. It takes five layers deposited on the paper in a vacuum chamber. But that’s a heck of a lot easier than current solar cell fabrication practices. In fact, is sounds like the printing process is very similar to how potato chip bags are made. This is significant, because it could mean a fast track to mass production for the technology.

It isn’t just the easy printing process that excites us. Check out the video after the break where a test cell is placed on top of a light source while being monitored by a multimeter. It’s been folded like a fan and you can see a researcher sinch up the cell into a small form for storage. It’s a little counter-intuitive; for instance, you wouldn’t want to make a window shade out of it because it would have to be down during the day to get power. Be we think there’s got to be some great use for these foldable properties.

[Thanks Rob]

Comments

  1. Doc Oct says:

    Car windows might be good, though I don’t know what you’d use the energy for.
    Even discounting the flexible properties, if they can make these easily and cheaply enough then maybe more houses could get solar energy to assist and lower their electric bills.

  2. Doc Oct says:

    Oh yeah, and it’d be good for HAM radio operators who want something easy to store and use during emergencies or while hiking or something. Assuming the sun is out when they want to use it. Could be a charger for a portable battery.

  3. edge0701 says:

    Solar Umbrella Anyone?

  4. DainBramage1991 says:

    I am blown away by this. I hope that these new cells go into full production and are distributed throughout the world. They are truly revolutionary compared to what I have seen before. I’m imagining people in small African villages (just for example) hanging sheets of these cells on their walls and roofs to power refrigerators, lights, radios, and whatever else; an opportunity they may not have had otherwise. Truly amazing.

  5. Mike says:

    You’re at work all day- why wouldn’t you want the shades down, keeping the house cool and generating electricity at the same time? You guys must live someplace cold, dark and unemployed :-b

  6. Adam says:

    hmmm… Well, if they are cheap enough, then you can ignore efficiency due to the large surface area that you can cover.

  7. cdilla says:

    If it’s a hot sunny day pull down the pv blinds to power the AC or a fan.

  8. Japa says:

    Solar powered tent canopy.

    That is all.

    That said, the video shows voltage, nor amperage, which would be a better measurement for the power that it generates.

    But even if this is far weaker than silicon wafer solar cells, it must be vastly faster and cheaper to make, which is what’s really important. Interesting to see would be the cost per watt comparison with other types of solar cells.

    • The video shows 80 milliwatts per square centimeter, which is 800 watts per square meter! A car roof is big enough you could probably get a kilowatt out of it in direct sunlight, if this is correct.

      • NotMyself says:

        Something seems off with that figure. 800W/m2 is too high to be a realistic figure considering current residential solar panels on average achieve about 150W/m2.

      • Pat says:

        Solar panels don’t generate power, they convert light to power. The 80 mW/cm^2 is probably with a very powerful light source that’s tuned to the frequency range that the material is responsive to.

        With normal solar insolation it will be *way* less, considering average solar irradiance is 1 kW per square meter.

      • Something seems off there for me too. That is why I added the “if this is correct” comment. If you look closely at the text embedded in the video, there is a MINUS sign in front of the exponent, which I did not take into account. That would make it a 80 mW per “square root centimeter” instead of 80mW per cm. Extending that out, it would be 800 W per “square root meter”.

        How do you convert that to “normal” power measurements?

      • Oops — my math is off. Square root is exponent 1/2, not -2… Need more coffee!

        A negative exponent would make in an IMAGINARY number right? So it must be an IMAGINARY power measurement. ;-)

      • Pat says:

        No, 80 mW m^-2 is 80 milliwatts per square meter. Negative exponents invert.

        They’re just illuminating it with a special light (i.e. non-solar).

    • The MAJOR breakthrough here is the power-to-weight ratio. No heavy silicon or glass needed.

      Here is a video of solar cell paper airplane folding:

      How about covering a large helium balloon with this stuff?

      • fallen says:

        Rob, your math is still off. A negative power indicates division. So it is 80mw per square centimeter. Its no different than writing 80mW/cm². The reason its done is the / notation can be really ambiguous when you have multiple /.
        :) so no need for imaginary power…yet…

      • I was up for a long stretch without sleep. ;-( And my university days were a LONG time ago too. And I was in a hurry to fix my mistake so I did not take the time to google “negative exponent”. My bad…

  9. ino says:

    That’s nice, but what about the efficiency?

    • Wakko says:

      “At present, the paper-printed solar cells have an efficiency of about 1 percent, but the team believes this can be increased significantly with further fine-tuning of the materials.”
      Looks promising, but not useful yet.

      • Brian Neeley says:

        I agree that it is not currently useful, but there is a big list of companies that missed out by saying, “No, our current format will never be replaced by this new FOO technology, or that BAR format.”

        My personal favorite is Kodak. They had an oppurnitity to get into digital way back in the beginning (back in the sub-one-megapixel days IIRC). They thought that digital would NEVER replace paper. That was also before “everyone” was online (dialup at that time), but if a technology EXISTS AT ALL, it will improve. If it doesn’t, it is because it dies, or is killed by another, “better” tech.

        When the mp3 format came out, no one thought it would enable people to carry the music of ten pounds of CDs in something that could be hidden in a package of gum. Most people can not understand the difference between not possible NOW, and not possible EVER.

        If Moore’s Law applies, and we use Rob Wentworth’s figures (below) of 10W/m^2, or 1mW/cm^2 maximum, we have a theoritical range of 40-50W/m^2 in about three years. And that would be on the order of 500W/m^2 by 2020. 40W/m^2 would translate to plenty of charging capacity for personal electronics from your school backpack. Never worry about a dead laptop with a full-sized camping backpack. If the technology can be adapted to work on asphalt shingles, the first company to do it safely will only have to worry about buyouts.

        The technology exists. Unless they come up against fundamental (or legal) limitations, this should be in consumer products within three to five years.

  10. ejonesss says:

    getting closer but i would like to see a process where you can buy solar cell ink and fill your inkjet cartridges with the stuff and print away.

  11. ben says:

    As to the power output, they state in the video what the wattage is. Right above the paper cell when they turn on the light at the beginning.

  12. atm473 says:

    I read somewhere that curved solar cells are more efficient than flat and do no require an active module to move the panel with the sun. This would be my use for this new tech.

  13. Solar powered clothing, for all of your portable electronic gear.

  14. arfink says:

    Forget little panels for tents and cars, I wanna cover a parking garage or football stadium in this stuff!

  15. CPPCrispy says:

    What this could be used with is those sun screens that people put on their windshield so their steering wheel does not get hot. What some one could do is rig the cars ventilation system fan by adding a wire so that the fan can get power from a different source and run that wire under the dash to the bottom of the drivers side pylon (the bar that holds the windshield and the roof). When the driver puts the sun screen on, they would attach the wire to it and the sun screen would create power to run the fan and possibly keep the car a little cooler.

  16. Erik says:

    Wrap it around every telephone pole in the country and tap it into the grid like they have panels up on some poles in NJ.

  17. CPPCrispy says:

    This could also be used to power the $8 airplane in the post above this one on the home page.

  18. The measurement shown in the video has a negative exponent (i.e. imaginary number). That is just too complex for me to understand. ;-)

  19. Also, instead of a ‘/’ showing division, they have a dot. They must be measuring the dot product of 80mW and an imaginary square centimeter. Something went awry during video post processing… ;-(

    Going by the 1% figure and 1KW/m^2 max solar exposure, it cannot be more than 10W/m^2, or 1mW/cm^2 maximum. So, realistic measurements should be in the 10s or 100s of microwatts per square centimeter. Perhaps they meant 80 microwatts, but the video editor changed the letter mu to an m…

  20. biozz says:

    does this really produce 26 volts?

  21. DainBramage1991 says:

    I think many people here are missing the point. Here you have a solar cell that can be manufactured cheaply, shipped in standard mailing tube anywhere in the world, set up on any surface, and is surprisingly durable.
    Who cares if it’s only 1% efficient? Who cares how efficient it is at all, for that matter, surely the efficiency will improve as the manufacturing process improves over time. These cells have advantages that NO OTHER materials can match. That’s what is important.

  22. echodelta says:

    What is with this obsession with folding things. Useless. No glass cover, goes to pot in months. Solar energy can do more than generate electricity. It can unzip bonds and peel sealings, and mutate life.
    I have said for 3 decades that PV should be in the form of shingles, kill two birds with one stone.
    The last thing we need is disposable PV ‘fans’ ‘flowers’ or any other gimick. Curved panels are just another gimick, some part is always getting poor exposure. Houses on north-south streets should not face the street but the sun.

  23. steve eh says:

    hasn’t this been around for a while…

    http://www.siliconsolar.com/flexible-solar-panels.html

  24. Truth says:

    Really good to see. Now all that is needed is for a multicell that works simultaneously at multiple frequencies. Imagine cells that could generate power from absorbed radio, IR, and UV as well as some visible light. My money is that the tech already exists for radar frequencies.

  25. sierra says:

    wow, combine this with e-paper and you’d have a great product… A self charging book reader. Maybe e-paper magazine programmed to change cover appearance when lighting changes (ie customers walking past magazine rack at checkout lane).

    And the fact that the cell survives folding is excellent, real world durability.

  26. As mentioned earlier, the real magic lies in power-to-weight ratio, and in inexpensive large-scale manufacturing.

  27. GBMAXX says:

    Imagine printed membranes upon lighter than air flying machines. Just joking… But in the real world, this has a lot of promise. Cheap, light and perhaps biodegradable.

    • Pat says:

      Why the heck would you want your solar panels to biodegrade?

      I want them effing immortal!

      • N0LKK says:

        Stating the obvious nothing is immortal. While I didn’t have solar PV arrays up to be damaged, I experienced two destructive hail storms this past Summer. Biodegradable could be good thing sometimes in regards to PV. Oh; I forgot the PV on one of the solar path lights got busted up.

  28. ryan says:

    “It’s a little counter-intuitive; for instance, you wouldn’t want to make a window shade out of it because it would have to be down during the day to get power. Be we think there’s got to be some great use for these foldable properties.”

    Isn’t the whole point to keep the heat out during summer and the heat in during winter?
    This is absolutely inverse to what air conditioners do!!!

    solar blinds: provide power in summer nothing in winter.
    air con: uses power in summer nothing in winter.

    PERFECT!

  29. busch says:

    Seen this very same invention popping up every 2nd year to be hidden away by evil petrol selling monsters never to surface again….

    Didn’t we already have spraypaint solar cells ?

    DONT EXPECT to see this anytime soon in the next 20 years.

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