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Stanford University researchers create peel-and-stick solar cells

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December 21, 2012

One of the decal-like solar panels, applied to a business card

One of the decal-like solar panels, applied to a business card

Image Gallery (3 images)

Traditionally, thin-film solar cells are made with rigid glass substrates, limiting their potential applications. Flexible versions do exist, although they require special production techniques and/or materials. Now, however, scientists from Stanford University have created thin, flexible solar cells that are made from standard materials – and they can applied to just about any surface, like a sticker.

Scientists at Stanford University have created thin, flexible solar panels that can be app...

To make the peel-and-stick cells, the researchers started by applying a 300-nanometer layer of nickel onto a rigid silicon/silicon dioxide wafer. Using standard fabrication techniques, thin-film solar cells were then deposited onto the nickel. A protective polymer was then applied over the cells, followed by a layer of thermal release tape being applied over it.

The resulting sandwich of material was then submerged in room-temperature water and one edge of the tape was peeled back, letting water seep in between the nickel layer and the wafer. Once the nickel completely separated from the wafer, the researchers were left with a bare wafer, and the tape with everything else still clinging to it.

The tape and its contents were then heated to 90ºC (194ºF) for several seconds, adhesive was applied to the non-tape side, and the whole thing was applied to a chosen surface. When the tape was subsequently peeled off, all that was left were the polymer-covered cells, adhered like a decal.

Part of the peel-and-stick panel production process

The cells have been successfully applied to a variety of both flat and curved surfaces – including glass, plastic and paper – without any loss of efficiency.

Not only does the new process allow for solar cells to applied to things like mobile devices, helmets, dashboards or windows, but the stickers are reportedly both lighter and less costly to make than equivalent-sized traditional photovoltaic panels. There’s also no waste involved, as the silicon/silicon dioxide wafers can be reused.

According to assistant professor of mechanical engineering Xiaolin Zheng, the process could likely also be used to create peel-and-stick thin-film electronics, such as printed circuits or LCDs.

“Obviously, a lot of new products – from 'smart' clothing to new aerospace systems – might be possible by combining both thin-film electronics and thin-film solar cells,” she said. “And for that matter, we may be just at the beginning of this technology. The peel-and-stick qualities we're researching probably aren't restricted to Ni/SiO2 [nickel/silicon dioxide]. It's likely many other material interfaces demonstrate similar qualities, and they may have certain advantages for specific applications. We have a lot left to investigate.”

A paper on the research was published this Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Stanford University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
6 Comments

Hey ...great article...something that I guess will be coming to everyone in the near future.... nothing is mentioned about the efficiency ... poly cells have a certain efficiency and mono cells slightly more... how does this technology stack up?

Aussie CorpSe
24th December, 2012 @ 03:46 am PST

Even mounting standard panels require wires to get the power to where it will be used. just mounting them is not enough. How does the electricity that this solar panel produce get to where it can be used??

offthegrid
24th December, 2012 @ 08:49 am PST

Bravo . Lets continue on Gentlemen.

Fronz
24th December, 2012 @ 04:54 pm PST

I was reading about this innovative technology, everyone talks about going green with technology. Think of all of the application of a peel and stick solar cell. It should be possible to use Stanford’s new process to create peel-and-stick computer chips and LCD displays. When I was in college the lab next to mine that was doing research in diamond film fabrication and I had a thought in reading this peel and stick technology we could create an indestructible solar cell out of diamond film. Diamond films can withstand the high levels of radiation typical of the space environment. By contrast, the performance of silicon cells degrades by about 50 percent after 10 years in orbit. Can operate at high temperatures. As a result, they can be used with low-weight inflatable solar collectors resulting in an energy system that produces more electricity per pound, a critical factor in space applications. Have a potential conversion efficiency of 50 percent as compared to 10 to 15 percent for silicon solar cells. Diamond solar converters are not photovoltaic devices like silicon cells but solar thermal devices. That is, they do not convert light directly into electricity. Instead, they convert light into heat and heat into electricity. Diamond solar cells are very similar to thermionic emission devices that were developed more than 40 years ago. In fact, they are a close cousin to the vacuum tubes that powered old-fashioned radios, televisions and even computers before the development of the transistor. In thermionic devices, electrons are released by heating. In diamond devices, however, electrons are extracted by combining heating and an electric field. Wow a peel and stick solar cell out of diamond.

EngineeringPhysics
24th December, 2012 @ 11:37 pm PST

nice, i like this idea. but offthegrid has a point...

billybob1851
26th December, 2012 @ 01:11 pm PST

I like the idea. I think the designing is also pretty appealing. Thanks for providing the good info.

shaunsmith
9th February, 2013 @ 07:39 am PST
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