Russian researchers develop lighter, more flexible solar cells

Scientists from Russia’s Tomsk State University (TSU) are working with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Sciences and local solar entrepreneurs on manufacturing flexible solar chargers using Graetzel cells that can be tailored in shape for a variety of uses.

The chargers are expected to be considerably cheaper and lighter than conventional ones. Behind the innovation lie oxide nanomaterials and their compositions. Solutions used to obtain oxide compositions may be applied to any flexible material, like thin glass, cloth, metal and polymer textures, according to the Russian scientists. After exposure to heat, a super thin composite coating forms on the surface, capable of converting sunlight into electricity.

Lyudmila Borilo, head of the university’s Polyfunctional Materials laboratory, said the the new technology can be used in such diverse areas as household activities, agriculture and in the defense industry.

Borilo added that the technical complexity of manufacturing such materials stemmed from the necessity of undergoing all of the manufacturing process and relying on very low temperatures until oxide nanoparticles and their compositions are obtained. This allows nanoparticles to adhere to the structure of the texture during exposure to sunlight, she added. Unlike older models, the new TSU-produced cells are much lighter and cheaper.

Flexible solar cells can be rolled and taken on hiking trips, or be used for charging a laptop computer or a cell phone, Borilo said. "Another option is to create cloth capable of generating heat from solar light. It’s optimal for people who work in the Arctic or in difficult conditions," the professor added. "Notably, the new solar elements are extremely sensitive to solar irradiation and keep generating electricity in a bad weather, even during cloudy and rainy days," Borilo noted.

Meanwhile, Russia’s renewable energy capacity supervisory authority, the Market Council, has qualified the Kosh-Achagatsk solar power plant in the Russian Republic of Altai as a quality electricity generator, a mandatory evaluation for all the projects selected in Russia’s annual renewable energy tenders.

Commissioned by Hevel, an affiliate company of energy holdings Renova and Rusnano, the plant became the first generating facility to have passed such a qualification.

Approved for construction in 2013 in the village of Telengit in the Sortoigojsk Kosh-Ackagatsk district, the 5 MW solar facility was launched in November 2014.

Consisting of 20,880 PV modules, the solar power plant has been fully connected into the republic’s grid and plays a strategic role in Altai‘s energy program.

All renewable energy projects selected in federal sustainable capacity tenders must receive Market Council qualification in order to be fully interconnected with the grid and offer a certain volume of electricity on the wholesale power market.

?ther Russian renewable energy developers are also stepping up their talks with local authorities over construction of solar facilities within the sustainable energy tender program.

Stavropol Region authorities have met with Mikhail Molchanov, head of Solar Systems, a Chinese-owned company, which is on track to become Russia’s largest renewable energy investor. The company is developing a 75 MW solar plant with necessary infrastructure valued at $120 million that is due in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Belgorodsk Region in Russia is set to bring a 15 MW, $26 million solar plant online at the end of the year. The first-ever Russian solar power plant was notably also built in the region in 2010.