Microscopic Folds Enhances Plastic Solar Cell Efficiency

Researchers from the Princeton University have conducted a study to improve the power output of solar cells. The researchers were inspired by the simple leaf structure, which is flexible and simultaneously absorbs sunlight to produce energy and nutrients for a tree.

Microscopic folds increase the power output and durability of solar cells. Credit: Frank Wojciechowski

The researchers applied this fact and used microscopic folds on the solar cell surface to improve its power output.

Usually, the solar systems are made of costly and fragile silicon. Instead of silicon, the researchers used inexpensive plastic for the study. Due to low energy generation, plastics are not widely used as panels. However, the objective of the researchers was to improve the efficiency of plastic and to develop a flexible, strong and affordable resource for solar power.

The folded surface was developed at the Howard Stone's laboratory in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department. A photographic adhesive layer was cured with UV light. The controlled curing helped apply stress on the material, which produced surface ripples. The shallow ripples were termed as wrinkles and the deeper ripples as folds. The researchers observed that the folds and wrinkles mix produced good results. The electricity production was enhanced by 47% through the folds. The principal investigator, Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo stated that the light waves were channeled through the folds, which offered enhanced exposure of the solar material to light.

Through the enhanced efficiency, plastic can produce electricity form different surfaces including external wall overlays, backpacks and window panel inserts.

Furthermore, the researchers observed that light absorption was nearly 600% higher in the red spectrum, which is uncommon in other panel materials. In addition, the method makes the solar panel strong even after bending when compared to normal plastic panel, which loses its efficiency by 70% after bending.

The study has been published in the journal, Nature Photonics.

Source: http://www.princeton.edu/engineering/


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