Peel-and-stick solar cells

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An associate professor at Stanford University is attempting to scale up her team’s solar cell stickers to revolutionize building-integrated PV, according to a report by National Geographic this week.

The website of the U.S. magazine on Wednesday reported on the research being conducted by Chinese professor Xiaolin Zheng, one of its 2014 Emerging Explorers.

Prof Zheng and her team at the Californian University have developed a method of fabricating a solar cell that peels away from its – reusable – silicon or glass surface after being submerged in water for a few seconds.

The academic, from Anshan in north-east China, says the resulting ‘peel-and-stick’ flexible cell can then be stuck onto any surface, potentially paving the way for buildings whose entire surface could be used for solar power generation.

Nickel layer

According to the online report, the cell has the nanomaterial graphene grown onto a nickel layer which separates it from the silicon or glass backing used in conventional thin film manufacture. The addition of the metallic layer means the cell, and nickel, can be peeled away from the silicon or glass after immersion in water to form a solar cell only ‘a couple of microns thick’ – around a tenth of the thickness of conventional plastic wrap thin film cells.

With the silicon wafer or glass reusable after the process, and the removal of the need for base material which typically accounts for 25% of the cost of conventional thin film cells, Prof Zheng – winner of a U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers – says the new technology could translate into significant manufacturing savings.

According to National Geographic, Prof Zheng and her team are now testing the technology on more efficient cells and trying to scale up the size from its current 1cm2 as well as exploring automation technologies for the peeling away process currently performed by hand in the lab.

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