Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

MIT unveils durable solar cells printed on paper


July 13, 2011

Graduate student Miles Barr holds a flexible and foldable array of solar cells that have been printed on a sheet of paper

(Photo: Patrick Gillooly/MIT)

Graduate student Miles Barr holds a flexible and foldable array of solar cells that have been printed on a sheet of paper (Photo: Patrick Gillooly/MIT)

Image Gallery (5 images)

We've been following MIT's progress on creating solar cell-coated paper since 2010, and we're excited to report the current findings of the project. What looks and feels like an ordinary sheet of paper with a fine layer of colored rectangles, is no ordinary piece of paper at all - once connected to a couple of wires, it instantly generates solar electricity. Additionally, the technology is almost as cheap and easy as printing a family snapshot from an inkjet printer. You can even fold it up, slip it in your pocket, then unfold it again for later use.

The printing process uses vapors at relatively low temperatures (less than 120C/ 248F), to transfer five fine layers of photovoltaic cells onto a piece of untreated paper, plastic or even fabric. The process takes place in a vacuum chamber where the layers are sprayed onto the same sheet of paper in successive passes, "creating a vapor-deposition process that can be carried out inexpensively on a vast commercial scale," according to MIT.

During an experiment to test the durability of the solar cells, a team of MIT students printed the cells onto a sheet of PET plastic (a thinner version than what is commonly used for soda bottles) and folded and unfolded it 1,000 times. Remarkably, there was no impact of each fold on the performance of the solar cells. In contrast, a commercially produced solar cell on the same PET plastic failed after the first fold.

"We have demonstrated quite thoroughly the robustness of this technology," says MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering Vladimir Bulović. Due to the low weight of the paper or plastic, "we think we can fabricate scalable solar cells that can reach record-high watts-per-kilogram performance," he added. "For solar cells with such properties, a number of technological applications open up."

Furthermore, by laminating the solar paper, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the system can be protected from rain and wind, and thus easily used outdoors. This achievement in itself could offer an economical solution to current solar energy systems that use glass or other expensive materials as a base.

The MIT team are currently conducting further research to improve the solar paper cell's efficiency, which currently sits at 1 percent. The team are confident that they can achieve a higher efficiency rate, although the present output is already "good enough to power a small electric gizmo," according to Bulović.

Watch the video to see the paper solar cells in action whilst being folded into a paper plane.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

Would be fun to control a paper plane with a radio-controlled joystick. :D

Renārs Grebežs

I\'s sure like to see this technology applied to sails on a cruising sailboat... after all, when you have hundreds of square feet of sail up, why not let them generate electricity as well as driving energy for moving the boat!

Mike Barnett

you will need a roof to power a small gizmo...emphasis on SMALL. They do need to work on the efficiency. There are not enough rooftops/surfaces. Record watts per kilogram does not count that much if the efficiency is so very low...there would be other costs that would neutralize watts per kilogram. But yes, if they could paper over every available surface with this...you get some serious trickle charging from it.


I\'ll be impressed when they can come up with the stuff in ink cartridges for ordinary 6 color printers. Print out a couple of pages of solar cells, run through a laminator then attach wire connector with clips that puncture the printed contact pads in many spots to ensure contact.

Combine this with inkjet printable OLED and transistor technology - print an OLED TV screen, antenna and tuner on one side and solar cell on the other side of a sheet of paper then laminate it.

Self contained, waterproof, roll-up television that hardly weighs anything. :)

Gregg Eshelman

This invention will change the face of power generation. Local power generation without elaborate distribution system can be a big advantage for remote places. How long ill it be before it becomes a commercial entity?

Vinod Shah

Vinod Shah

Unfortunately Nehopsa has beaten me to the punch! Where is the space, [except maybe the Sahara desert], to utilize this obviously interesting concept?


Lets think???

You could have these silk printed on to clouthing, that allows 'lit up displays' that can be reprogrammed via a bluetooth phone. Or, generate your own power from clouthing, to trickle charge a phone/Ipod etc.

The day they incorporate these onto car paintwork, you know we are talking seriously about this technology being adopted!

Just a thought? ... have they not been using this concept for powering saterlites in space ... if its good enougth for a dish ... its good enough for us!

Guys ... let the games begin ... ''FREE lifetime subcription!!!'' ;D

Harpal Sahota
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles