A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made the thinnest and most flexible solar cells to date. They are so lightweight that they can be placed on a soap bubble without breaking it.
Scientists explained that the new cells could be put to use in many more ways than common photovoltaic cells (pictured). They could be embedded in smart clothing, smart devices, space vehicles, and even helium balloons.
Vladimir Bulović, one of the MIT researchers that have been working on the new technology, explained that the cells could be attached to our clothes, notebooks without even noticing them.
Nevertheless, the tiny cells aren’t ready for mass production yet. A researcher not involved in the project said that the model was just a demonstration that solar cells could be downsized to unprecedented scales. The idea alone could have tremendous implications for the future of clean energy.
Max Shtein of the University of Michigan, who was not part of the work, believes that the new generation of solar cells could maximize power-to-weight output which could lead to amazing applications for the aerospace industry. Plus, the new cells do not need complicated technology to be embedded in existing structures. They can be simply laminated onto surfaces.
Shtein praised the team’s work for its high quality, creativity, carefully-planned laboratory work, and the well-written research paper.
In their work, the MIT team detailed how they managed to break the world record for the lightest and thinnest photovoltaic cell. They explained that they grew together the cell and a polymer that was used as substrate. The technique prevented both materials from being exposed to impurities such as dust. They also used dibutyl phthalate on top of the solar cell as a layer designed to absorb more light.
The entire experiment was performed in a vacuum chamber, and it did not involve any chemical substances. Researchers employed only water vapors to ensure that the photovoltaic cell and the polymer are glued together.
One of the researcher involved in the work said that the breakthrough’s only downside may be its very size. The cell is so tiny that it could be blown away by simply breathing too hard next to it.
The team also said that the vacuum-based technique to layer the cell is extremely versatile, and it could allow the cells to be ‘grown’ on any fabric or other materials including paper.
Image Source: Pixabay