Business cards, cellphones and windows could all get a little boost from a sticky new invention. However, fabrication of thin-film solar cells (TFSCs) on substrates other than Si and glass has been challenging because these nonconventional substrates are not suitable for the current TFSC fabrication processes. Researchers have now created thin, flexible solar cells that can stick to paper, plastic, glass and many other materials, just by using double-sided tape.
"Now you can put them on helmets, cellphones, convex windows, portable electronic devices, curved roofs, clothing — virtually anything," Xiaolin Zheng, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University who led the development of the new solar cells, said in a statement.
The cells are a step toward turning more and more everyday items into either electronics or solar power-harvesting surfaces. Solar cells placed on windows could help a building absorb more solar power than roof installations alone, for example. And a combination of flexible solar panels and electronics could lead to products such as electrified "smart" clothes that control a connected smartphone. With the new peel-and-stick process, the scientists integrated hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) TFSCs on paper, plastics, cell phone and building windows while maintaining the original 7.5% efficiency. The new peel-and-stick process enables further reduction of the cost and weight for TFSCs and endows TFSCs with flexibility and attachability for broader application areas.