From: Editor, ENN
Published December 24, 2012 10:07 AM

Decal-like Sticker Will Make Solar Panels More Applicable

Solar panels have been popping up on everything from rooftops to parking garages and even Christmas lights. However, these stiff and rigid heavy panels often limit their applications. Fortunately, researchers at Stanford University have developed flexible, decal-like solar panels that can be peeled off like stickers and stuck to virtually any surface, from papers to window panes.

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Unlike standard thin-film solar cells, peel-and-stick thin-film solar cells do not require any direct fabrication on the final carrier substrate. This is a far more dramatic development than it may initially seem. All the challenges associated with putting solar cells on unconventional materials are avoided with the new process, vastly expanding the potential applications of solar technology. 

Thin-film photovoltaic cells are traditionally fixed on rigid silicon and glass substrates, greatly limiting their uses, says Chi Hwan Lee, lead author of the paper. And while the development of thin-film solar cells promised to inject some flexibility into the technology, explains Xiaolin Zheng, a Stanford assistant professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the paper, scientists found that use of alternative substrates was problematic in the extreme.

"Nonconventional or 'universal' substrates are difficult to use for photovoltaics because they typically have irregular surfaces and they don't do well with the thermal and chemical processing necessary to produce today’s solar cells," Zheng says. "We got around these problems by developing this peel-and-stick process, which gives thin-film solar cells flexibility and attachment potential we've never seen before, and also reduces their general cost and weight."

Utilizing the process, researchers attached thin-film solar cells to paper, plastic and window glass, among other materials.

While others have been successful in fabricating thin-film solar cells on flexible substrates before, those efforts have required modifications of existing processes or materials, notes Lee. "The main contribution of our work is that we have done so without modifying any existing processes, facilities or materials, making them viable commercially. And we have demonstrated our process on a more diverse array of substrates than ever before," Lee says.

"Now you can put them on helmets, cell phones, convex windows, portable electronic devices, curved roofs, clothing — virtually anything," says Zheng.

Moreover, peel-and-stick technology isn't necessarily restricted to thin-film solar cells, Zheng said. The researchers believe the process can also be applied to thin-film electronics, including printed circuits, ultra thin transistors and LCDs.

Read more at Stanford University.

Solar panels image via Shutterstock.

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