CHICAGO--U.S. researchers have devised a way to make flexible solar cells with silicon wires that use just 1 percent of the material needed to make conventional solar cells.
The eventual hope is to make thin, light solar cells that could be incorporated into clothing, for instance but the immediate benefit is cheaper and easier-to-install solar panels, the researchers said.
The new material, reported on Sunday in Nature Materials, uses conventional silicon configured into micron-sized wires (a micron is one-millionth of a meter) instead of brittle wafers and encases them in a flexible polymer that can be rolled or bent.
"The idea is it would be lower-cost and easier to work with by being more flexible than conventional silicon solar cells," Michael Kelzenberg of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.
Solar cells, which convert solar energy into electricity, are in high demand because of higher oil prices and concerns over climate change.
Many companies, including Japanese consumer electronics maker Sharp and Germany's Q-Cells SE, are making thin-film solar cells using organic materials such as polymers, but they typically are less efficient at converting solar energy into electricity than conventional cells using silicon.
The study is among the latest to combine the flexibility of the new organic or carbon-containing films with the high efficiency of silicon, which is heavy and stiff. … Read more