This solar technology from MIT can turn any surface into a source of energy


Multi-purpose solar cells are thinner than a human hair.

Caption: MIT researchers have developed a scalable manufacturing technique to produce ultra-thin, lightweight solar cells that can be stuck to any surface. Melanie Gonick, MIT

MIT engineers have developed powerful solar technology that can go beyond your roof.

The newly developed solar cells can stick to many different surfaces, from the sails of a boat to the wings of a drone, and even the clothes on your back, providing power on the go. The new technology surpasses conventional solar panels in size and capacity, with 18 times more power per kilogram for one-hundredth the weight.

Research on this new material was presented Friday in a press release from MIT. Vladimir Bulović, the head of MIT’s Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab) and lead author of a new paper describing the work, said in a statement that the technology is an answer to a need for energy sources. without carbon.

“The parameters used to evaluate new solar cell technology are usually limited to their power conversion efficiency and dollar cost per watt. Equally important is integrability, ie the ease with which new technology can be adapted. Lightweight solar fabrics enable integration, giving impetus to ongoing work,” Bulović said.

Lightweight technology packs a mighty punch for owners. Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, co-lead author of the paper, told MIT that to produce 8,000 watts of power, the amount of a typical rooftop solar installation in Massachusetts, the new panels would only add about 44 pounds – in total – to the roof of a lodge. For reference, the average weight of a solar panel is about 40 pounds.

Not only is the technology revolutionary, but so is its manufacturing process – the paper-thin cells are fully printable using ink-based materials. They are then attached to a light but strong fabric called Dyneema.

“While it may seem simpler to simply print the solar cells directly onto fabric, this would limit the selection of possible fabrics or other receiving surfaces to those that are chemically and thermally compatible with all necessary processing steps. to manufacture the devices. Our approach decouples the manufacture of the solar cells from its final integration,” explained Saravanapavanantham.

But the technology won’t be installed on your roof – or sewn into your clothes – just yet. The team is always on the lookout for the right material to wrap the product in that will protect it from the elements while remaining ultra-thin.

“We are working to eliminate as much non-solar-active material as possible while maintaining the form factor and performance of these ultralight and flexible solar structures,” explained Jeremiah Mwaura, another co-author of the paper, at MIT.

Once the right material is found, this solar fabric has the ability to add innovative and eco-friendly energy to everyday life.


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