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Technology & Innovation

Solar Cells You Can Stick On Objects

Stanford University researchers have succeeded in making an ultra-flexible solar cell that can be peeled off a backing and applied to any surface.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at Stanford University have created a solar cell that works like a sticker: It’s peeled off a backing and applied to an object. Lead researcher Xiaolin Zheng and her team created the cell by adding thin layers of nickel and plastic to a standard silicon dioxide wafer, and topped those with a layer of thermal release tape. By then dipping the entire thing in warm water and removing the tape, they ended up with “a very thin, three-layered ‘sandwich’ of plastic, nickel and silicon dioxide…[which was then heated] to make it soft enough to take on any shape and attach to any surface.” The cell could then be connected to the components that use the energy received from sunlight.

What’s the Big Idea?

Most solar cells have to be built with rigid materials in order to work, which limits how and where they can be used. Lightweight, flexible solar cells such as these can be installed and used in a variety of ways; most notably, they can charge small electronics such as smartphones. Because the process removes a very thin layer of silicon dioxide, the wafer can be reused to make more cells, which would help reduce manufacturing waste.

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