Just ten years ago, you couldn’t find a solar panel without a decent amount of heft to it, much less one that would actually bend. Solar panels were strictly limited to being installed and never moving. However, the recent invention by Korean scientists has made solar panels so thin and flexible that it could wrap around a pencil or a pair of glasses. This potential breakthrough could mean a whole new future for wearable technology as well as likely another major price drop in solar installations for homeowners.
Developed by a team of South Korean researchers, these new solar panels are just a single micrometer across which is thinner than a human hair or a single coat of paint. For reference, both of those things measure out to around 100 micrometers. This effectively makes these experimental new solar panels up to four times thinner than solar panels that are currently on the market.
The previous record holder for thinnest solar panel measured 4 micrometers, but unfortunately it could not bend. This new thin panel not only performs on a similar scale to its predecessors in terms of turning the energy from the sun into power, but it is flexible enough to wrap around a pencil. Even when wrapped around something just 1.4mm wide, the new panels were still able to perform at maximum potential.
These findings were all published Professor Jongho Lee, an engineer at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, in the journal Applied Physics Letters. The panels are described to be made from a semiconductor in conjunction with gallium arsenide opposed to traditional non-bendable solar cells that are made from polysilicon and acrylic lens.
The semiconductor and gallium arsenide is actually stamped onto a flexible conductive metal material instead of applied with an adhesive or etched into the material like previous super thin, but non-flexible panels. This process not only cuts the actual size and thickness down, but the cold welding process used to attach the electrode actually makes these flexible solar cells stronger.
Super thin, flexible solar panels are interesting and everything, but what does it mean for the people who actually want to use them? Will these be able to be installed on your roof in the near future? It is unlikely.
Initially, researchers thought this new technology could be used as a power source for smart glasses or incorporated into clothing in order to power wearable technology like smart watches or MP3 players. All of this technology is typically limited to a certain size because it requires a battery that can hold a certain amount of reserve power. However, if these new wearable technology devices could get a portion of its power from our exposure to the sun, they could use a smaller battery, thus become smaller.
Of course, because the solar panels are both thin and flexible, they could also become an integrated power source in future cell phones as well.
These are immediate applications of the new panels. In this future, when combined with sunlight-enhancing acrylic lens like proper solar panels, these could easily be repurposed for small scale use in homes. While likely they will never be powerful enough to fuel a whole house, they could provide enough power to cheaply power a few devices. As it uses fewer materials, this could become an affordable alternative to providing emergency power.
This is another great leap forward for solar technology, making its future even brighter for those that want to free themselves from the grid and live by their own merits. For more information on solar technology and everything else you need to live a self-sufficient life, contact us today.
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