Glitter sized solar cells produce big sized power

glitter sized solar cells
glitter sized solar cells - picture by Murat Okandan of Sandia National Labs
Microscopic sized solar cells are being made by researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories in Alburquerque, NM, and these cells are expected to be much cheaper to make and more efficient than current silicon photovoltaic solar cells.    The new hexagonal shaped cells, which are being described as “glitter-sized”, are made from silicon, but are only one-tenth the thickness of traditional solar cells, use 100 times less silicon to produce the same amount of electricity, and should be able to be designed into flexible materials like plastic or cloth – so the cells could be directly incorporated into buildings or even your clothes.     They could eventually be used on any surface that’s exposed to the sun – tents, cars, houses, etc.

Researchers have already achieved about 15% efficiency in the lab with these tiny solar cells, and higher efficiencies are expected.    What’s more, the researchers say that these tiny solar cells can be produced cheaply using existing semiconductor chip manufacturing processes, and they can be cut from silicon wafers of any size with the electrical contacts already prefabricated on the cells, further reducing costs.   Other benefits of the tiny cells will result in more dependable solar panels and arrays – currently, when a regular size solar cell fails, it has a big impact on the entire output of the panel, since each cell takes up such a large space.  But with these .25 to 1 millimeter in diameter cells, if one cell should fail, it would have an almost negligible impact on the output.  Furthermore, due to the large number of these cells that would be put into a solar array, higher voltage output could be generated directly – which would further help to reduce costs and increase efficiencies due to lower electrical resistance in the wiring.

The researchers are already thinking about the next steps.  They envision being able to place microscopic lenses above each cell which would concentrate solar energy directly onto the cells to generate even more electricity per cell.  They also expect to be able to build chip level intelligent controls, inverters, and storage into their cells.

via: Sandia National Laboratories

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