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Solar Energy New glitter-sized photovoltaic cells deliver the same electricty with 100 times less silicon

Published on December 28th, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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New Glitter-Sized Photovoltaic Cells Use Less Silicon, Generate More Electricity

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December 28th, 2009 by
 
 
New glitter-sized photovoltaic cells deliver the same electricty with 100 times less siliconResearchers at Sandia National Laboratories have come up with a new photovoltaic cell no bigger than a flake of glitter, but it packs a big punch.  The new cell uses 100 times less silicon to generate the same amount of electricity as conventional solar cells.  While still in the development stage, the new solar particles could lend themselves relatively easily to commercialization because they are made of crystalline silicon and use the same micro-manufacturing processes typical of modern electronics.

The new cells can be made from available silicon wafers of any size, without some of the quality control problems involved in conventional solar cell manufacturing. The Sandia researchers also expect them to be less expensive, more durable and more efficient that conventional solar collectors, and they could open up an exciting new range of applications.

Microphotovoltaic Cells and the U.S. Military

The Sandia researchers foresee the potential for solar particles to be applied irregular surfaces including fabrics, which would make every tent, tarp or article of clothing into a potential battery-charger.  That has significant implications for the U.S. military, which is eagerly seeking harvestable solar energy and other forms of scavenged energy to power its electronics-laden field personnel with less of a logistics burden, and to help reduce its reliance on vulnerable fuel convoys to deliver energy to remote outposts.

Microphotovoltaics and Rooftop Solar Arrays

The Sandia team also cites the potential for applying the tiny photovoltaic cells directly to roofing materials, which would practically eliminate the often cumbersome permitting process that is currently needed to install a conventional rooftop solar array (Dow has taken a similar approach with its new solar shingles).  Compared to six-by-six inch conventional solar cells, the new solar particles are only up to 20 micrometers thick, less than one third the thickness of a human hair, and they could be imprinted with circuits that would control the collection and disbursement of solar energy within the building and to a grid connection, without the need for expensive and time-consuming electrical design work.  Roof maintenance, repair, and shading issues may also be mitigated due to the small size of the micro-cells.

The Small Future of Microphotovoltaics

Solar cells are getting smaller, and surgical implants are among the intriguing possibilities for the future use of microphotovoltaics.  Just this month, researchers at Stanford University announced that they have developed a retinal implant with solar cells.  The project pulled together ophthalmologists, electrical engineers, neurobiologists, and biophysicists.  It resulted in a built in “high-def TV” that could enable some blind persons to see shapes and meaningful images, using tiny photovoltaic cells to convert light into electrical impulses.  The project was developed with a silicon implant that used tiny “bridges” to follow the shape of the eye, and the use of micro-cells might enable an even more flexible design approach.

Image: Glitter by dreamglow on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • MD

    So even if we stop using foreign oil, we will still rely on forum silicon cells… hmm maybe there is a reason companies in Abu Dhabi want to build and or purchase fab plants… they know the writing is on the wall.

    Google “Abu Dhabi + The Foundry Company”

    The sand in the ME sucks for construction, we export sand to the ME BTW.. lots of it, but the sand in the ME is very good for something other than construction. Hint Hint Hint !

  • MD

    So even if we stop using foreign oil, we will still rely on forum silicon cells… hmm maybe there is a reason companies in Abu Dhabi want to build and or purchase fab plants… they know the writing is on the wall.

    Google “Abu Dhabi + The Foundry Company”

    The sand in the ME sucks for construction, we export sand to the ME BTW.. lots of it, but the sand in the ME is very good for something other than construction. Hint Hint Hint !

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