Army Researchers Invent Ridiculously Small New Solar Cell

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A group of US Army researchers has just won a patent for a new solar cell, capping off a project that has been in the works since the late 1990s. The Army is already all over portable solar power and the new cell would ramp that trend up by making solar equipment more lightweight and compact.

US Army small solar cell

How Small Is Ridiculously Small?

For those of you who enjoy examining patent documents, hit up US20120325299 and you’ll find the patent, titled “Photonic bandgap solar cells.”

The new solar cell clocks in at several hundred nanometers thick. While that doesn’t beat thin-film solar cells, it does beat other photovoltaic (PV) cells in its class. According to the Army, typical solar cells fall into the 100 to 200 micron range (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and a micron is 1,000 nanometers).

Since this is the Army and all, smallness and lightweightness are only two elements that factored into the final design. To be useful in portable and mobile applications, a PV device needs to function at a high level of efficiency without the need for tracking (for those of you new to the topic, tracking simply means shifting the solar panel throughout the day so the sun is always hitting it at an optimal angle).

Army PV devices also need to be much more durable than conventional stationary solar arrays.


Generally speaking, smaller can also lead to an overall cost savings simply because much less material is involved, assuming that you get the same (or better) bang for your solar buck.

That’s a particularly important factor with this solar cell, since it consists partly of nanometer-scaled layers of precious metals such as silver and gold.

For the record, the research team was spearheaded by Dr. Michael Scalora, a research physicist at the US Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, in Alabama.

The research is still in its early stages, so no word on conversion efficiency yet, but the patent does demonstrate that the technology is worth another round or two of R&D investment, and the team is confident that if and when commercialized, the new solar cell will cost less than today’s conventional models.

And if that doesn’t pan out, there’s always quantum dots.

US Army Cements Position As “Climate Bully”

If Redstone Arsenal rings a bell, solar-wise, that’s probably because just last year the facility was tapped to host an 18,000 MWh solar installation, which will be the largest in Alabama.

For those of you keeping score at home, in December 2014, the Army issued a notice of intent to award the Redstone solar contract to SunPower Corporation, with the expectation that the behemoth would be up and running in 2016.

That brings us to the climate bully thing. Last summer, various thought leaders on the other side of the aisle started pushing the idea that advocates for climate action are being bullies. If you think that through, the US Army, and for that matter the entire US Department of Defense, are in the bully category — you won’t find any higher-ups in the armed services hedging over the reality and causes of climate change, let alone its impact on national security.

Come to think of it — and we are thinking of it — perhaps there’s more than meets the eye to that not-so-secret Obama Administration plan to invade and take over the great state of Texas, aka Jade Helm.

What if the Obama Administration doesn’t merely plan to occupy Texas, but to install a very large solar array in that state, just like they’re going to do in Alabama?

For the answer, one need only look at what the Army is doing to Georgia….

Image Credit: Partial view of a photonic bandgap solar cell via

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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