MIT puts solar cells on paper

There has been talk recently of the first solar powered aircraft. But it appears a research team at MIT have gone one better and developed the first solar powered paper planes.

That’s because the new solar cell production method, devised by a team at MIT, is able to print photovoltaic (PV) materials directly onto a sheet of plain old A4, creating a cheap alternative to conventional cell materials.

This means that it is possible to attach wires directly from the PV enabled paper and use it as an energy source, as in the video below.

Using a process similar to that which adorns the innards of crisp packets with a silvery lining, the scientists have managed to print the photovoltaic cells in a way which is much less harmful way.

It’s not the first attempt at printing solar cell components onto paper, with new innovations constantly cropping up, however it has always been necessary to coat the paper first. The new method can. It uses vapours rather than liquids in the printing process, while staying under temperatures of 120 degrees Celsius.

This means that the more traditional glass substrates can be forgone in favour of a variety of materials such as plastic, cloth and paper.

The properties offer up a range of possibilities with PET plastic which can be be folded and unfolded 1,000 without any loss to performance.

And the scientists are confident that their method can be used to produce “record-high watts-per-kilogram performance”.

Substrates often cost more than other photovoltaic materials, so by scrapping it the team hopes to cut production expenses. 

With the combination of low costs and robustness, the material could be well suited to developing countries.

TechEye recently discussed the promising possibilities of printed plastic solar cells with a panel manufacturer. It’s clear that particularly in areas where off-the-grid power is used, smaller, more lightweight yet robust panels offer an immediate benefit.

One of the drawback in printed plastics is a lower efficiency rate, so for now at least, the new method is a while away from rivalling traditional cells.

Currently, the MIT scientists have managed to produce cells which are able to reach one percent efficiency. However, they are confident of vastly improving this as the technology is developed, and are able to supply power to a “small electric gizmo”.