Thanks to an international team of chemists, physicists and engineers, we may soon see the creation of flexible silicon solar cell fabrics. Led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, the team has developed the new type of lightweight, fiber-based, flexible solar cells that could revolutionize the way we produce renewable energy.
Built on earlier work that explored ways of merging optical fibers with electronic chips (technology used for most electronic devices such as solar cells, computers and cell phones), researchers have found a way to bypass the need for that integration. Instead, they managed to make a photovoltaic device that can generate electric power by converting solar radiation into direct-current electricity. The findings show a possibility of creating flexible, curved or twisted solar fabrics that could not only collect light energy at various angles, but also be portable, foldable and even wearable.
“Long, fiber-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn’t really do before: We can take the silicon fibers and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing, and biomedical devices”, said Badding.
The new material could be directly connected to electronic devices to power and charge their batteries. Not only applicable in everyday use, this new type of fibers can make a huge difference in large-scale solar power collection. It could completely replace currently used solar cells –a typical solar cell has only one flat surface, which makes it dependent upon the direction and angle of the light. Solar cell materials, on the other hand, are flexible and can collect light energy at all angles and at any time during the day.
Lead Image by Badding Lab, Penn State