MIT researchers have created an alternative to heavy solar panels, made of glass and silicon. Their new, thinner-than-a-hair technology is flexible, lightweight, and can be easily produced on a large scale.
Despite accelerating development, in particular because of the current energy crisis, solar panels are encountering a major obstacle, literally. They are thick, heavy and fragile, which complicates their installation. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States have just developed ultra-thin and flexible solar panels that can be printed on any surface. They detailed their invention in the review Small Methods.
The structure is only 2 to 3 micrometers thick. These photovoltaic cells produce 370 W/kg, and weigh 0.1 kg/m² (i.e. 37 W/m²), in comparison with commercial panels which produce 20 W/kg and weigh 10.7 kg/m² (i.e. 214 W/ m²). They therefore weigh 100 times less than conventional panels.
This new ultrathin and flexible solar panel can be manufactured on a large scale. © MIT
This new solar panel is created on a plastic sheet covered with a layer of parylene which serves as insulation and protects the structure against humidity. They then printed the photovoltaic cells using inks containing silver nanowires, tin oxide nanoparticles, and silver; everything goes through several stages of drying in the oven. The electrodes are added by screen printing. The assembly is then transferred to the final support by lamination. It should therefore be easy to create large panels, and produce them on a large scale.
Even if the electricity production per square meter is less than with conventional solar panels, it should be compensated by largely reduced production and installation costs. This new technology could be used on many surfaces that were previously impossible to exploit, such as the roofs of warehouses. These cannot support the weight of conventional panels. These new solar photovoltaic cells could be sold in the form of a roll that just needs to be unrolled on a roof. They could also be integrated into the sails of boats, the wings of drones and the canvases of tents.