Scientists from Austria and Japan just announced that they have created micro-thin solar cells that are thinner than a human hair and even narrower than spider silk. These sheer solar cells are ten times thinner than any other solar technology ever created. The innovation transforms thin solar technology as we now know it, and it could pave the way for the development of electronic textiles, advanced robotics, and synthetic skin.
The thin-film development, a joint project of the University of Tokyo and the University of Austria, spreads electrodes across a plastic foil and results in a cell 1.9 micrometers thick. The cells (shown above in their compressed state) are both durable and flexible to the point that they can be wrapped around a human hair without any damage. Even after they are layered on top of a thin mylar material, the solar cells themselves are only 0.25 percent of the device’s total thickness. Because they are so ultra-thin, users would not notice the cells in clothing or devices that utilize the technology.
According to Tsuyoshi Sekitani, a researcher at the University of Tokyo, users would not feel the weight of these cells, and their elasticity could be used in many applications. Such cells could be attached to clothes like a badge, allowing them to generate electricity from the sun. Elderly people who use clunky medical devices with battery packs could experience more freedom from future devices that seamlessly monitor their health.
For now the cells are not efficient enough to power any gadgets, but Sekitani said they could be on the market in five years. He also believes the cells could be made larger, which would increase their efficiency. Their durability and flexibility could change everything from health care technologies to building design and even clothing. Solar cells, once thought of as large flat panels taking up vast amounts of space, now have the potential to be integrated in our daily lives.
Photos courtesy Nature.com