MIT researchers create solar cells that are so thin they may be used as a power source on any surface.

An ultra-thin and ultra-light solar cell created by MIT researchers can be used to convert practically any surface into a solar power source. The flexible solar cells are attached to a lightweight fabric and are far thinner than human hair, making it simpler to mount them on any fixed surface.

Although they are substantially lighter than silicon PVs, the current iteration of our novel lightweight photovoltaic (PV) cells is not as effective at converting power. In the short term, they would be used to supplement current silicon photovoltaic systems rather than to replace them, according to Vladimir Bulovi, lead author of the research article that was published in the journal Small Methods, in an email to

“For instance, they can be utilised to distribute solar electricity to remote locations. Our PV modules are 18 times lighter than silicon PV modules per Watt produced, making them simple to deliver and instal in far-off settlements. We anticipate that our technology will match the efficiencies currently produced by silicon photovoltaics when our technology advances. Our flexible PV modules can then be viewed as an alternative to silicon PVs, Bulovic continued.

Making the ultra-thin solar cells

This innovative solar cell was made by researchers using nanomaterials in printable electronic inks. They deposited layers of electronic components onto a substrate that is only 3 microns thick using a “slot-die coater.” To finish the solar cell, they employed a screen printing process to print an electrode and put it on the substrate. The printed module is now roughly 15 microns thick, and scientists may remove the plastic substrate to obtain the device. Human hair, by contrast, is typically 70 microns thick.

However, this incredibly thin standalone module is challenging to work with because it is prone to tearing and other types of damage. To address this issue, the researchers used a substance known as Dyneema, a unique type of cloth with a low weight per square metre.

According to MIT, the fabric’s fibres are so powerful that they were used as ropes to raise a sunken cruise ship from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. They employed a UV-curable glue to attach the solar device to this material, creating a super-strong construction that is also incredibly light and versatile.

Versatility, endurance, and upcoming research

Conventional photovoltaic solar cells are enclosed in thick glass and metal framing because they are brittle. This severely restricts the locations where such solar cells can be mounted and used. This is the reason there is a resurgence of interest in creating solar cells that are so adaptable and ultra-thin. For instance, Dartmouth researchers created a new flexographic printing technique earlier this year to deposit perovskite solar cells on virtually any substrate.

When the fabric was rolled and unrolled more than 500 times, the MIT researchers examined the longevity of the new devices they created and discovered that the cells still maintained more than 90% of their initial power generation capabilities. To keep them protected from the elements, they would still need to be covered in another material.

To make these cells more resilient, the researchers told that more work will be needed. According to Bulovi, “We are developing flexible, lightweight packaging technology that is mechanically durable, allowing us to keep the format of the present PV.”

The researchers see numerous applications for the material once the packaging technology is established. For instance, it can be mounted on a boat’s sails to produce propulsion at sea. Additionally, it can be applied on tarps and tents used in recovery efforts after a disaster and drones to increase their range.


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