Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Solar Energy

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

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

Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like


This episode of CleanTech Talk is part two of a recent conversation I had with RK Equity cofounder Howard Klein. You can listen to...


Renewable fuel from air and water are on the menu for a supersonic, next-generation version of Air Force executive aircraft. Could that include Air...

Clean Power

With the infrastructure bill finally in the rear view mirror, the solar industry is still missing one key piece of the puzzle.


Scientists show exactly how promising approach to better batteries breaks down.

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.