The ballooning potential of curved solar cells


A research team from the universities of Houston and Colorado Boulder has used a balloon as an electronics-printing stamp to develop a manufacturing process that could be used to make curved electronics.

The method, dubbed conformal additive stamp printing (CAS), can deliver curved lenses with embedded electronics or curved solar cells, the scientists said in their paper Three-dimensional curvy electronics created using conformal additive stamp printing, published in Nature.

The process involves using an elastomeric latex balloon coated with commercially available urethane rubber, as a printing tool. The device is stamped on a pre-fabricated electronic device to collect the electronics and can then print them onto curved surfaces. The process enables the production of curved electronic devices including hemispherical solar cells, the scientists claimed, as well as silicon pellets, photodetector arrays, small antennae and smart contact lenses.

Curvy cells

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The authors of the paper say they created a hemispherical solar cell that can gather more light than a flat equivalent.

It is unclear whether the method could be applied to produce flexible PV devices or building-integrated PV (BIPV) modules but efficiency gains are being recorded in both branches of the solar industry. Thinner silicon wafers, produced with diamond wire sawing and new flexible encapsulants, for example, are enabling the production of silicon PV modules in curved variations to more effectively meet BIPV project requirements.

Last week, researchers at the University of Warwick announced a discovery that could lead to new designs for organic PV devices. According to the U.K. research, composites of insulators and conducting nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes, graphene fragments or metal nanoparticles, could have great potential for such an application, offering enhanced device performance and lower cost. Given organic PV’s potential for flexible solar on buildings, vehicles and other applications, the researchers noted, widening the range of materials available to cell designers could improve their ability to meet aesthetic requirements.

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