Instead of investing in solar cell architectures that require entirely new manufacturing processes, wouldn’t it be easiest to build on what we have? That’s part of the thinking behind a new type of silicon nanorod solar cell developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The nanorods are assembled into a “carpet” and embedded into a transparent polymer to make flexible solar cells that use only 1% of the material needed to make conventional silicon cells.

This isn’t the first time scientists have built solar cells out of a nanowire array. Researchers in St. Petersburg, Russia, recently built a nanowire cell out of gallium arsenide, but the material is more expensive to produce than silicon. Another advantage to the CIT team’s research: their silicon design can be built using tools already used in solar cell production facilities.

The CIT researchers still need to build a solar cell device out of the nanowire array. But if all goes well, the flexible silicon cells could one day be used to make cheap solar panels and ultra-efficient solar-powered clothing that we can only dream about today.

+ Nature News