Solar-powered calculators have been around for decades, but scientists have yet to come up with a smartphone equivalent. However, one company is working on a solar cell that could extend existing battery life.
Solar tech company Alta Devices is working on a high-efficiency solar cell thin enough to build into a typical smartphone, boosting existing battery life by as much as 80 percent depending on the amount of light available. The cell is made of gallium arsenide, which is much better at capturing energy than ordinary silicon but is considerably less flexible. Alta’s method involves depositing gases on a heated silicon wafer, which then crystallize into an extremely thin film that can be peeled off the wafer. Currently gallium arsenide solar cells are used only by the military, but Alta has created designs that could be incorporated into phones.
What’s the Big Idea?
Silicon solar cells like those found in pocket calculators don’t capture enough energy to make putting them in smartphones worthwhile. Gallium arsenide cells would be especially valuable in areas of the developing world where electricity is lacking. In addition to their use in smartphones, Alta CEO Christopher S. Norris suggests that they could make cars work more efficiently by supplying part of the electricity used to power functions like power steering or air conditioning.