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Future Devices Could Charge via Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells

If powering up was as simple as sticking a solar cell on the surface of a window or mobile gadget, users would not only gain an easy and cheap way to charge their devices, but could also reduce the demand for fossil fuels for charging electronics.

Thanks to a working partnership between Stanford University and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the development of thin-film peel-and-stick solar cells is in the works, so we may see future devices powered by these types of cells.

Peel-and-stick, or water-assisted transfer printing (WTP) was developed at Stanford, and has been used in nanowire-based electronics, but new research has resulted in a successful demonstration of using the process for thin-film solar cells.

The researchers have shown that thin-film solar cells (less than one micron thick) can be removed from their silicon substrate, dipped into room temperature water, briefly exposed to heat (90°C), and then applied to just about any surface.

“NREL’s amorphous silicon cells were fabricated on nickel-coated Si/SiO2 wafers. A thermal release tape attached to the top of the solar cell serves as a temporary transfer holder. An optional transparent protection layer is spin-casted in between the thermal tape and the solar cell to prevent contamination when the device is dipped in water. The result is a thin strip much like a bumper sticker: the user can peel off the handler and apply the solar cell directly to a surface.” – NREL

Most thin-film solar cells must adhere to a special substrate, but according to the researchers, the new method being developed uses flexible polymer substrates, which are lightweight and transparent and could enable the cells to be affixed to curved surfaces

The study, “Peel and Stick: Fabricating Thin Film Solar Cells on Universal Substrates,” is published online at Scientific Reports.

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