MIT Prints Solar Cells on Paper (But Are They Recyclable?)

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[Photo: MIT]
Printers have come a long way. First, they printed text and images on paper. Then 3D objects out of plastic (and let's not forget 3D printers that print parts for itself). Then various foodstuffs. But now, thanks to MIT, printers can now output solar cells.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new material that makes it possible to print photovoltaic cells onto paper or fabric. The resulting sheet is flexible, pocketable solar cell that can power a LCD clock instantly.

The printing method is not as simple as using an inkjet. First, the paper needs to be treated with five layers of material in a vacuum chamber to form the patterns of the solar cells. The solar cells aren't printed using a liquid ink, either; instead, they're is sprayed on as a vapor at a temperature below 120-degree Celsius--much cooler than the high temperatures and extreme conditions that are normally needed to manufacture photovoltaic materials.

The technology was developed by a group of MIT researchers including: Karen Gleason, an Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering; Vladimir Bulovic, Professor of Electrical Engineering; graduate student Miles Barr; and six other students and postdocs.

Despite the complicated printing method, the researchers claim that the process is inexpensive. The printed materials can be used in a much more energy efficient and less heated environment. According to MIT News, the printing is similar to the one used to make the silver lining in potato chip bags, so the process could be easily scaled up to mass production. The researches imagine that their solar paper could be used in homes as window blinds, wallpaper, and an overall replacement for the glass substrate we use for our current photovoltaic cells.

Be sure to check out MIT News’ article for their interview with the researchers, and a full write up on this solar paper.

[Advanced Materials and MIT News]

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