Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Paper Thin Solar Cells Turn Any Surface Into A Power Source

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Researchers have developed thin solar cells, measuring in microns, that can generate 730 watts of power per kilogram.

Credit : MIT

Photovoltaic cells are being designed to power most of our day to day devices, and they respond quite efficiently to our demands as well. But this does not stop us from creating a more sustainable technology and advancing into the concept of photovoltaics.

Researchers at MIT have designed an ultralight fabric solar cell that can quickly and easily turn any surface into a power source. These durable, flexible solar cells are much thinner than a human hair. They can provide energy on the go as a wearable power fabric or be transported and rapidly deployed in remote locations for assistance in emergencies. They are one-hundredth the weight of conventional solar panels, generate 18 times more power-per-kilogram. As these solar cells are thin and lightweight they can be laminated onto many different surfaces.

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Researchers used nanomaterials that are in the form of printable electronic inks to produce these solar cells. Then they were coated using a slot-die coater, which deposits layers of the electronic materials onto a prepared, releasable substrate that is only 3 microns thick. Using screen printing, an electrode is deposited on the structure to complete the solar module. The researchers can then peel the printed module, which is about 15 microns in thickness, off the plastic substrate, forming an ultralight solar device.

The problem in deploying these solar cells is that they are thin and can be easily torn. To tackle this problem the MIT team searched for a lightweight, flexible, and high-strength substrate they could adhere the solar cells to. They identified fabrics as the optimal solution, as they provide mechanical resilience and flexibility with little added weight. They found an ideal material—a composite fabric that weighs only 13 grams per square meter, commercially known as Dyneema. By adding a layer of UV-curable glue, which is only a few microns thick, they adhere the solar modules to sheets of this fabric. This forms an ultra-light and mechanically robust solar structure.

When the device was tested, researchers found that the device could generate 730 watts of power per kilogram when freestanding and about 370 watts-per-kilogram if deployed on the high-strength Dyneema fabric, which is about 18 times more power-per-kilogram than conventional solar cells. Research plan to remove as much non-solar active area as possible which can reduce the form factor and enhance performance of these ultralight and flexible solar structures.

References : Mayuran Saravanapavanantham et al, Printed Organic Photovoltaic Modules on Transferable Ultra‐thin Substrates as Additive Power Sources, Small Methods (2022). DOI: 10.1002/smtd.202200940


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