A team of MIT researchers have come up with a way to print photovoltaic cells, otherwise known as solar cells, on sheets of fabric and paper.
Using vapors instead of liquid and printing with cooler temperatures, the cells are printed just like you’d print off a document on your home printer. Little rectangular boxes make up a pattern that contains the cells, and even after significant use such as folding repeatedly (see embedded video below) and exposing to extreme heat, the cells were just as efficient.
If you’re wondering how solar paper or fabric is going to benefit any of us, one place they could be used is in the packaging or fashion industry, where many designers want to incorporate solar cells into their lines as a replacement to cheap plastics or other hardware made of non-renewable resources. Remember that solar powered bikini and t-shirt? This could be the first step in making these a mainstream item.
Aside from replacing some plastic parts, printing solar cells means less transportation of goods across countries. Companies can save money importing product parts if they can simply print solar cells to use in place of plastics or other materials, saving fuel, taxes, resources and other hefty costs.
The cells only have a 1% efficiency rate which is way below average, but the ability to cheaply and easily print them is a significant step. With a few tweaks and some fine tuning, the efficiency rate will most likely increase and solar cells will be used in more industries as a natural and cost-effective way to produce electricity. If your phone is running out of juice and you’re stuck in traffic, it could give it a little power (with the help of sunlight) until you find the cord. If the efficiency rates increase enough, maybe we will all have our houses covered in similar material, creating all the free energy we need.
What use could you find for printable solar cells?
Image by Patrick Gillooly, via MIT News