Researchers are developing powerful and ultra-thin solar cells

The new solar cells can be attached to any smooth surface. Image: Melanie Gonick, MIT

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Saskia Balser

Solar cells are not only useful on house roofs, but could generate green electricity in numerous places. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been working on the flexibility of solar cells so that they can adapt to different surfaces – and have now achieved great success.

The research team has managed to produce ultra-light solar cells that can be attached to any solid surface and which are 18 times more powerful than conventional solar modules.

Nanotechnology brings flexibility

how Science Daily reports, the researchers are working with nanotechnology. The basis of the new solar modules is the material Dyneema, which is usually used in bulletproof vests and in the Sport is used, because it is tear and cut resistant and yet extremely light. Semiconductive ink is printed on this fabric – this is how the solar modules get their flexibility.

The research team explains exactly how the process works in a YouTube video:

The development of extremely thin solar cells is not a world first. It was already successful six years ago, but the production was very complex and expensive. This should be different with the solar cells newly developed by MIT.

According to the researchers, the cells could be used in tents for disaster rescue, for example, or attached to sails to power boats at sea. As a coating for drone wings, they could also increase flight performance.

Since it should be possible to attach the wafer-thin cells to a wide variety of surfaces, the researchers say there are many possible uses. “Given the urgent need to develop new carbon-free energy sources, we want to accelerate the adoption of solar technology”says Vladimir Bulović, lead author of the new publication, in which the work is described.

Conventional solar cells have clear disadvantages

In contrast to MIT’s new development, conventional solar cells are very fragile. They must therefore be packed in glass and aluminum so that they do not break. Unlike the new cells, this packaging makes them extremely heavy.

“A typical rooftop solar array in Massachusetts is about 8,000 watts. To generate the same amount of energy, our photovoltaic fabric would only add about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) to the roof,” explained one of the researchers.

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