December 26, 2009
Microphotovoltaic Cells Could Embed In Clothing

Very small solar cells open up the possibility of many applications.

Sandia National Laboratories scientists have developed tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used.

The tiny cells could turn a person into a walking solar battery charger if they were fastened to flexible substrates molded around unusual shapes, such as clothing.

Such cells could be placed on irregular building shapes, vehicle surfaces, and surfaces where conventional PV can't attach.

Sandia lead investigator Greg Nielson said the research team has identified more than 20 benefits of scale for its microphotovoltaic cells. These include new applications, improved performance, potential for reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

“Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing,” he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.

The much lower use of silicon should cut costs since silicon is a major portion of the cost of silicon-based PV. This suggests these cells might be able to compete on cost versus the cheaper CdTe and CIGS thin film PV that is currently underselling silicon PV on price.

“So they use 100 times less silicon to generate the same amount of electricity,” said Okandan. “Since they are much smaller and have fewer mechanical deformations for a given environment than the conventional cells, they may also be more reliable over the long term.”

The conversion efficiency is pretty high - higher than the cheap thin films.

Offering a run for their money to conventional large wafers of crystalline silicon, electricity presently can be harvested from the Sandia-created cells with 14.9 percent efficiency. Off-the-shelf commercial modules range from 13 to 20 percent efficient.

New discoveries for making better solar cells keep getting announced by research labs while a growing assortment of PV makers compete with new approaches for cutting manufacturing and installation costs. Some day PV is going to become a cheap way to generate electricity.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 26 08:08 PM  Energy Solar

Perry Curling-Hope said at December 30, 2009 6:24 AM:

No mix of renewable energy 'technologies' will ever be able to significantly replace fossil energy.
This is because of fundamental physics relating to energy density, not technologies.
This excludes the issue of energy quality, apart from the role of fossil resources as chemical feedstocks essential to most industrial processes, besides as energy source.
An "80% cut in emissions by 2050" just ain't gonna happen, as it world require a virtual shut down of our modern industrial civilization.

Even with the latest thin film PV panels, (produced from fossil based polymers) an area of about 200 square meters is required to produce an energy flow sufficient to boil a kettle. (with new, clean panels in Death valley in Arizona at midday, not in Norway in the middle of winter)
Dust, dirt and pollution degrade performance, requiring cleaning, as does time, falling to a replacement service life of less than 20 years.

Most of the energy 'footprint' of an individual in a 'developed' economy is not through his household and personal transport needs, but indirectly through the products and trappings of modern life he consumes.
These are in turn supplied by industry, which consumes most of the worlds energy.
It is inconceivable for this industrial activity to continue on anything like the present scale in the absence of fossil resources, either through depletion or attempts to significantly reduce their use.
A significant extension, from an electricity generation standpoint, might be secured through closed loop "Integrated Fast Reactor" technology, which affords reasonable energy densities, but environmentalists are so vehemently and implacably opposed to anything 'nuclear' that I am not optimistic.

Uncle B said at January 27, 2010 12:11 PM:

The dramatic paradigm shift in lifestyle for the Great Hulking American Neanderthal, spawn of over two hundred years of force feeding and genetic breeding by the Corporatists, Capitalists, for the exploitation of the easy natural riches of America is upon them! Marked by the end of the light sweet crude oil era, a changeover of convulsive force from liquid energy to Electrical energy is upon the Great Hulking American Neanderthal, He will give up his gasoline toys with great howling dissatisfaction, he will learn to heat using better, modern, insulations, he will live in modest sized sustainable homes, he will use Electric Bullet Train intercity networks in place of rubber wheeled cars, and jet aircraft,as the Chinese already do, he will travel by train, and battery/car and he will eat very little that was once oil supported, like corn, and the beef and pork it is fed to! Small mercies like a micro-solar cell will be much appreciated in his LED lighted world, and even a free cell phone charge will be significant to his economical situation. Those among the Great Hulking American Neanderthals that cannot comply with the new paradigm will be rendered as unemployed, or unemployables. Through the American Medical Cartel's insurance boards and committees, they will be "Selected" to an uncertain and painful death without proper medical care - a genetic cleansing of America! This is to prepare for a future of sustainability as is found among Asian countries now. Asian vegans are the Corporatists, and Capitalists, "Preferred Cheaper Labor" as witnessed by the Capital flight from the U.S.A. to the Beijing, Shanghai and Hang-Seng stock markets recently, and financing of the huge expansion of ultra-modern dorm-equipped factories, manned by 89 pound vegan women, 24/7 shifts, on two or three month “in residence” contracts in China today. Even these workers will show great appreciation for Solar recharging devices, and purchase them at low prices, albeit in great numbers, multiplying their worth as a market over and beyond that of the Great hulking American Neanderthal, a species headed for extinction as we speak, SUV's, McMansions, suburbs, molls and all!

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