MIT researchers are putting lots of effort and time into creating solar panels that are smaller, lighter, and more efficient to help harness energy from the sun. In working on solar panels, the scientists have created a thin, flexible and lightweight solar panel that could be placed on just about any surface. To highlight just how thin and flexible the solar panel is, the researchers laid the solar cell on the surface of a soap bubble without popping the bubble.
The team says that this is the thinnest and lightest solar cell ever produced. One of the keys to creating the cell was devising a new method to create the substrate that supports the solar panel and the protective overcoating that shields the cell from the environment in one process. The substrate for the cell is made in place and never needs to be handled, cleaned, or removed from vacuum during fabrication.
This minimizes any chance of exposing the cell to dust or other contaminants that might cause performance degradation. MIT professor Vladimir Bulović said, “The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device.” The initial experiment used a flexible polymer called parylene as the substrate and overcoating with the primary light absorbing layer made of an organic material called DBP.
Parylene is commonly used to protect implanted medical devices and printed circuit boards from environmental damage. The scientists say that the materials chosen to make the solar cell are just examples and the breakthrough is the process used to make the cell. The team says that the substrate and solar cell could be deposited directly on fabric or paper using their method. The cell produced isn’t especially efficient, but the low weight of the cell give it one of the best power-to-weight ratios ever achieved.