Flexible Solar Panels
A Breakthrough in Green Energy
For all their green energy appeal, the hype surrounding solar cells has been dogged by one critical point – their rigid design. Solar panels are expensive, large, heavy panels that need to be fixed into place, limiting their application and large-scale use.
And yet, a breakthrough has been made: Stanford researchers have succeeded in developing the world’s first Peel-And-Stick solar cells. The flexible solar panels can be peeled off like a sticker and stuck to virtually any surface, from papers to window panes.
This breakthrough eliminates the old challenge of mounting the large, rigid solar panels on any unconventional surface or material, which vastly expands the potential applications of solar technology. The Peel-And-Stick process gives the solar cells a greater level of flexibility and attachment potential, as well as reducing their cost and weight.
How do the Peel-And-Stick solar panels work?
The new process owes its unique, flexible design to unique silicon.
- First, a 300-nanometer film of nickel (Ni) is placed on a silicon/silicon dioxide (Si/SiO2) wafer.
- Then thin solar cells are placed on the nickel and covered with a layer of polymer for protection.
- A thermal release tape is then attached to the top of the solar cells to augment their transfer off of the wafer and onto a new surface.
- The solar cell is now ready to peel from the wafer. The wafer is submerged in water at room temperature and the edge of the thermal release tape is peeled back slightly, allowing water to seep in between the nickel and silicon dioxide interface. The solar cell is therefore freed from the hard surface but still attached to the thermal release tape.
- The tape and solar cell is then heated to 90°C for several seconds.
- Then the solar cell can be applied to virtually any surface using double-sided tape or other adhesive.
- Finally, the thermal release tape is removed, leaving just the solar cell attached to the chosen surface.
Tests have revealed that the Peel-And-Stick process leaves the solar cells intact and functional, and that there is no waste, as the silicon wafer can be cleaned and reused, as it is undamaged during the process.
These Peel-And-Stick solar panels can be applied to virtually anything – helmets, phones, windows, curved roofs, clothing – making their application greatly more accessible for everyday energy consumers.
Moreover, the researchers believe that this new Peel-And-Stick technology isn’t just limited to solar panels, but could also have the potential to be applied to thin-film electronics, including printed circuits and ultra-thin transistors and LCDs. Results of this new technology if it works could range from smart clothing with electronics built into it to new aerospace designs, which could combine both thin-film electronics and thin-film solar cells. Still in its early stages of development, this new technology opens a lot of new design doors that could be applied to multiple applications. There is a lot still to investigate, so this is only the beginning in the turning point for renewable, green energy.