Scientists develop flexible silicon based solar cells

A team of researchers, led by John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, announced that they have found a way to make silicon based solar cells that are flexible and transparent enough to be used to tint windows on buildings or cars.    The new flexible solar cells retain the efficiency of conventional solar cells.

“We can make it thin enough that we can put it on plastic to make a rollable system. You can make it gray in the form of a film that could be added to architectural glass,” said John Rogers.

Scientists develop flexible silicon based solar cells
Scientists develop flexible silicon based solar cells

The team developed these new flexible silicon based solar cells by using a special etching method that uses conventional single crystal silicon, which is rigid and fragile, and then slicing off chips from the silicon wafer.   The slices are 10 to 100 times thinner than the wafer, and then the slices are transfered to a new surface, such as a plastic sheet.    The new cells can be used for making flexible solar panels like current thin-film cells such as those made by Nanosolar and other companies, but because they are based on silicon solar cells, the efficiency is much higher.

Rogers also announced that the technology has been licensed to a startup company named Semprius Inc.

3 thoughts on “Scientists develop flexible silicon based solar cells

  1. So theoretically buildings could be made in the future with these tinted windows all over them, in a design similar to Philadelphia’s Comcast Center?
    Or are the silicon cells to expensive to mass produce in a way like that? Either way, the concept seems intriguing. I should look into it when I get the time.

  2. Ben – thanks for leaving a comment. I think that theoretically you got it right – these cells could be part of any building design, but would especially be suited to a skyscraper like Philly’s new Comcast Building. Right now these only exist in the lab, but I would think that the slicing of the wafer into very thin cells would ultimately lower the cost of the cells since silicon is a large part of the cost of a conventional cell. So we’ll see – anything that either cuts the cost of the solar cell or increases its efficiency is good news.

  3. This seems to be a fantastic advancement. Are they more expensive than conventional solar cells? I come from the UK and we have a lot of greenhouses over here and it could be the perfect combination. All of a sudden there seems to be a glut of new solar technology which is great.

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