All the way back in 2009, CleanTechnica described micro-miniature, glitter-sized solar cells under development at Sandia National Laboratories. The new solar cells bore the promise of replacing fossil fuels with the one-two-three-four punch of low cost, high efficiency, high volume manufacturing and ease of installation. It’s been a long wait but the innovative technology is finally getting to the commercial stage, thanks to a licensing agreement with the startup mPower.
In consideration of the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration, reporter Fernanda Lopez of Albuquerque’s KRQE News 13 has offered an interesting twist on the glitter-cell story, so let’s start with that.
Local Scientist Makes Good
The Lopez article illustrates how local reporters can push back against anti-science rhetoric and provide the public with more insight into the benefits that scientists bring to society.
Though she may not have been sitting in on planning sessions for the February 19 Rally for Science in Boston, her story reflects some of the main points that organizers want to emphasize: scientists are everyday heroes that try to make life better for everyone.
Her article was published on February 11 under the headline, Sandia scientist paving the way for solar energy.
The scientist in question is Murat Okandan, who worked on the Sandia team that developed the glitter-sized solar cells.
Under the lab’s technology transfer policy, Okandan was able to start the Albuquerque company mPower, which will commercialize the technology under the name Dragon scales.
Lopez teases out the theme of hometown pride within the first three words of the article:
A local scientist is paving the way when it comes to solar energy.
She also lingers on the benefits of the technology:
Imagine a version of these prototypes folded up to fit in your backpack. Take it on a camping trip to charge your laptop or phone. Its flexibility even makes it possible to go on clothing.
Eventually, Okandan sees this wrapped around homes or even cars, covering all exposed areas to get the most out of the sun’s rays.
And, she closes off by noting that the same technology transfer program has enabled 46 other tech startups to sprout in New Mexico.
Boom! Scientists try to make life better for everybody.
Photonics media covered the Dragon scales story in greater detail on February 14, but Lopez was in a much better position to reach a local audience — and a broader swath of the public — with news about a hometown hero.
Speaking Of Miniature Solar Cells…
As of this writing the mPower website is still in the landing page phase, but if you follow the MEPV link you can get some more details about the new technology straight from Sandia.
MEPV stands for microsystems enabled photovoltaics. Sandia puts MEPVS in the category of cutting edge solar tech that is “cheaper to produce and easier to install than traditional grid power and capable of producing clean, safe, and reliable electricity.”
The solar cells are relatively cheap because they are based on mature technologies already used for microscopic-scale design and manufacturing.
When distributed in a solution similar to printer’s ink, the cells can be easily applied onto any number of low cost surfaces.
Here’s the rundown from Sandia:
…Sandia’s approach uses cells that are tiny in both thickness and lateral dimensions — as small as 14 microns thick and 250 microns wide. The thinness of the cells reduces material costs while enhancing cell performance by improving carrier collection and potentially achieving higher open circuit voltages.
As for the surfaces in question, Sandia lists “buildings, houses, clothing, portable electronics, vehicles, and other contoured structures.”
How Low Can Solar Go?
It has been a long time since CleanTechnica first took note of the new solar cell, but a lot has happened since then. Last year was a record-breaker for the solar market, and there’s plenty more where that came from.
The mega-delivery company UPS, for example, is so excited by the low cost of solar that it’s quintupling its stable of on site solar installations with a new investment of $18 million.
In another interesting development, Germany’s sonnen energy storage company has just put down stakes in Atlanta, Georgia with big plans for introducing solar + storage to homeowners throughout the US.
Photo (cropped): via Sandia National Laboratories.