Flexible ultrathin solar cells could be placed on "almost any surface"

02/29/2016 - 18:17

David L. Chandler

Imagine solar cells so thin, flexible, and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including your hat, shirt, or smartphone, or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

Researchers at MIT have now demonstrated just such a technology: the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.


Ref: In situ vapor-deposited parylene substrates for ultra-thin, lightweight organic solar cells. Organic Electronics (23 January 2016) | DOI: 10.1016/j.orgel.2016.01.022


We fabricate the thinnest (1.3 μm) and lightest (3.6 g/m2) solar cells yet demonstrated, with weight-specific power exceeding 6 W/g, in order to illustrate the lower limits of substrate thickness and materials use achievable with a new processing paradigm. Our fabrication process uniquely starts with growth of an ultra-thin flexible polymer substrate in vacuum, followed by deposition of electrodes and photoactive layers in situ. With this process sequence, the entire cell—from transparent substrate to active layers to encapsulation—can be fabricated at room temperature without solvents and without breaking vacuum, avoiding exposure to dust and other contaminants, and minimizing damage risk associated with handling of thin substrates. We use in situ vapor-phase growth of smooth, transparent, and flexible parylene-C films to produce ultra-thin, lightweight molecular organic solar cells as thin as 2.3 μm including encapsulation with a second parylene-C film. These parylene-based devices exhibit power conversion efficiencies and fabrication yields comparable to glass-based cells. Flexible solar cells on parylene membranes can be seamlessly adhered to a variety of solid surfaces to provide additive solar power.