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Come Saturday Morning: Breakthroughs for Solar Power

Image courtesy Phys.org

The last two months have been full of news on the flexible solar cell front.

First there was this from Brazil:

What looks like a thin, flexible sheet of regular plastic is actually a solar panel printed with photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. This new material, totally unlike the heavy and costly silicon-based panels commonly used to generate solar power today, was created by scientists at CSEM Brasil, a research institute based in the southeast Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Made by incorporating organic photovoltaic cells into common polymers, the new panels resemble transparent sheets of plastic with stripes where they have been printed with carbon-based organic polymers.

[…]

“While the capacity for power generation is almost the same, its small size means that it can be given uses that are almost impossible for silicon panels,” said the chairman of CSEM Brasil, Tiago Maranhão Alves, a physical engineer who participated directly in the research.

The lightweight, flexible new material can be used to power the electrical components of automobiles and in electronic devices like mobile phones and wireless computer keyboards and mice.

But the Brazilian researchers are concentrating on the production of solar panels, which can be used to cover relatively large areas, like windows. “A panel with a surface area of two or three square metres could be sufficient to generate the energy needed in a house lived in by a family of four,” Alves told Tierramérica*.

Imagine a car wrapped in the stuff. You could make a hybrid sedan, or give the Tesla sports car a genuine 200-mile range. Now imagine skyscrapers and apartment buildings wrapped in the stuff. Even the least efficient buildings could generate a large chunk of their own energy. At the very least it would relieve a lot of stress on our aging power grids.

Then there was this courtesy of Hanyang University in South Korea and Stanford University in America — peel-and-stick solar cells:

Professor Dong Rip Kim of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has succeeded in fabricating peel-and-stick thin film solar cells (TFSCs) with the collaboration of Stanford team led by Professor Xiaolin Zheng. This method makes possible the overcoming of hardships related to working with traditional solar cells, namely the lack of handling, high manufacturing cost, and limited flexibility while maintaining performance.

[…]

The Si wafer is clean and reusable, which is a big cost-saving factor for solar cells. Moreover, as the peeled-off TFSCs from the Si wafer are thin, light-weight, and flexible, it can be attached onto any form or shape of surface like a sticker.

The graphic accompanying this article shows how the peel-and-stick feature works.

Either of these would be game-changers, but the Brazilian breakthrough could very well change our civilization, and for the better.

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