Sunday, March 07, 2010

New Ultra-Flexible Solar Cells May One Day be Incorporated into Clothing

Imagine a lightweight, flexible solar cell that could be built into your clothing, allowing you to charge the batteries on gadgets from iPods to smart phones with a little help from the sun.

A team of researchers at the California University Institute of Technology (Caltech) has developed a new, super bendy solar cell made from silicon wire arrays grown on a silicon base. The new cells enhance the absorption of sunlight and converts photons into electrons using less than half of the amount of expensive crystalline silicon used by conventional solar cells.

Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of Caltech's Resnick Institute focusing on sustainability research , led the team in the development of the new solar cells. Atwater said the flexible cells are so rugged they can be rolled up as opposed to traditional solar cells that are made from thin, brittle wafers.

At water also said these solar cells surpass the light-trapping limit for absorbing materials, meaning that the silicon wire arrays absorb as much as 96 percent of sunlight at a single wavelength and 85 percent of total collectable sunlight. They can then convert almost 100 percent of the sunlight into electrons, making them both highly efficient and higher in quality solar cells than conventional cells.

The performance of the new solar cells appeared in the February 14 issue of the journal Nature Materials . Atwater says there are a myriad of potential uses for the cells that can be produced on a large scale using roll-to-roll printing methods, and he said the team is actively pursuing commercial opportunities right now.

So, those solar cells built into your parka providing an all-day charge for your various gizmos may be just a few research steps away from reality


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