Solar Cells Thinner Than a Hair On Your Head

Solar Cells Thinner Than a Hair On Your Head

- in Cells, Efficiency, Energy, Solar

Solar panels as thin as 1.3 um!


Of course, this statement could only come from one of the most prestigious labs or university research groups in the world. Yes, MIT research does it again! MIT researchers were able to create ultra-thin layers of flexible polymers to make the lightest weight and thinnest solar cells yet possible. They have accomplished a thin design as small as 1/50 th the thickness of a human hair.


The innovation revolves around the ability to fabricate the final product in a single process thereby creating the solar cell, its supporting substrate, and a protective over-coating that shields it from the environment. This process makes the substrate in place.  The entire cell—from transparent substrate to active layers to encapsulation are able to be fabricated at room temperature without solvents and without breaking the vacuum seal which minimizes handling, cleaning and removing the final product from a vacuum during the fabrication which would subject the product to dust and contamination that would degrade the solar cell’s performance.



MIT professor Vladimir Bulović states that “The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device.”


This new in-line method that produces a thin-film Photovoltaic (PV) substrate is made up of a lightweight and flexible vapor-deposited parylene material. This new technique will advance the creation of lightweight and flexible optoelectronics. Granted that what MIT claims are the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced, it may take years to develop into a commercial product.



Since parylene solar cells have been proven to be as efficient as glass-based cells, and are only 1.3 um thick and weigh less than a feather at 3.6 g/m2 one can imagine the ultimate disappearance of bulky and heavy roof-mounted solar cells being replaced by a thin layer of these devices all over a roof as well as wrapped around contours of a home or business. The weight-specific power in these devices is greater than 6 W/g so this initial lab proof-of-concept will easily enable a new mechanism in making solar cells to power the next generation of portable electronic devices.



The new process is well described in a paper by MIT professor Vladimir Bulović, research scientist Annie Wang, and doctoral student Joel Jean, in the journal Organic Electronics.



A 2kVA GaN Power Inverter in 14 cubic inches



At 143 W/cubic inch, a power inverter was developed recently during the Google Little Box Challenge using GaN power elements. See Figures 1a and b.









Figure 1: (a) The CE+T Power TSI Bravo 2kW Inverter (top left) and their innovative Google Little Box winner (lower right) and the (Image courtesy of CE+T Power)

(b) The Google challenge target design request of 2000VA on the left and CE+T Power’s winning design specs on the right. (Images courtesy of CE+T Power)



Now someone please couple these two innovations and we can propel the Solar Energy ahead in spite of low oil prices! (Which you know will not last). How will this combo affect the Third World????

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