We’ve seen several different examples of printable solar cells in the past, however MIT engineers just unveiled a new type of cell that can be printed onto paper or fabric. The flexible photovoltaic cells are not energy intensive to produce and they can be folded over 1,000 times without any loss of performance. The technology was officially published today in the journal Advanced Materials by Professor of Electrical Engineering Vladimir Bulović and several other students.

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Instead of creating solar cells by exposing substrates to liquids or high temperatures, the team has developed a process that can produce solar cells on ordinary paper or cloth using ‘gentle’ conditions. The solar cells are formed by placing five layers of material onto a single sheet of paper in successive passes. A mask is utilized to form the cell patterns, and the entire printing process is done in a vacuum chamber.

“We have demonstrated quite thoroughly the robustness of this technology,” Bulović says. “Because of the low weight of the paper or plastic substrate compared to conventional glass or other materials, we think we can fabricate scalable solar cells that can reach record-high watts-per-kilogram performance. For solar cells with such properties, a number of technological applications open up.”

MIT’s printed solar cells herald exciting new applications for photovoltaics, however the technology will need to be refined and made cheaper before we are printing solar cells out of our office printers.

Click here to see the technology in action.


Photos: Patrick Gillooly