You know the expression “Bigger is better,” right? Well when it comes to energy production, many think that our biggest power supplier of all, the sun, is the future of renewable energy sources. At least until we learn how to attach a three-prong to a supermassive black hole. A new form of solar cell makes its statement that sometimes, smaller is the better way to go.
For a study published in Nature,‘s Scientific Reports, Stanford professor of engineering Xiaolin Zheng and his research team presented their discovery on creating peel-and-stick solar cells. A 300-nanometer film of nickel is set on a silicon-silicon dioxide wafer. Solar cells are placed on the nickel and are then protectively layered with a polymer coating before being covered by a thermal release tape that facilitates the transfer of solar cells from the wafer to whatever it’s attached to. The wafer is submerged in room-temperature water where the thermal tape is peeled back, allowing water to seep between the nickel and silicon dioxide layers. The cell layer is later freed from the production substrate but still affixed to the tape. Both are heated to 90°C for a few seconds before they can be applied to a surface using adhesive. The thermal tape is then removed, leaving the cells to stick to whatever surface they’re applied to, except maybe Teflon.
The main problem hindering solar power from going mainstream has for years been in their stiff bulkiness, due to photovoltaic cells needing to be fixed onto the rigid silicon and glass, which limits movement and capabilities. Irregular and unconventional surfaces, or substrates, don’t allow for the proper thermal and chemical processes needed for optimized solar cell use. But now, the cell stickers can theoretically be applied to anything from TVs to curved roofs, and no adaptation or modification of materials is required.
“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,” said Zheng. “The peel-and-stick qualities we’re researching probably aren’t restricted to Ni/SiO2. 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.” Indeed, like how to develop wind power through iron-on T-shirt decals and belly-button piercings.