Solar Cells Thinner Than the Average Human Hair

Solar Cells Thinner Than the Average Human Hair

South Korean scientists have fashioned ultra-thin photovoltaics that, with a thickness of about one micrometer, are thinner than the average strand of human hair.

Standard photovoltaics are typically hundreds of times thicker. And even most ultra-thin photovoltaics already in development are two to four times thicker. It’s this thinness that’ll make these materials flex easily. In fact, they are flexible enough to wrap completely around the average pencil.

Researchers reported these results in the journal, Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing.

The ultra-thin solar cells were crafted from the semiconductor gallium arsenide. Researchers stamped the cells directly onto a flexible substrate without using an adhesive, as that would add to the material’s thickness.

The cells were then “cold welded” to the electrode on the substrate by applying pressure at 170 degrees Celsius and melting a top layer of material called “photoresist,” which acted as a temporary adhesive. The photoresist was later peeled away, leaving the direct metal to metal bond.

Optical images and finite element analysis results of the flexible GaAs solar microcells.
Optical images and finite element analysis results of the flexible GaAs solar microcells.

In simpler terms, these ultra-thin panels and their unique adhesive process mean big things for solar-powered smart devices, especially wearable electronics such as fitness trackers and smart glasses.

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The journal research noted:

The experimental results along with the theoretical analysis conducted here show that the ultra-thin vertical-type solar microcells are durable under extreme bending and thus suitable for use in the manufacturing of wearable flexible electronics.

The figure to the right showcases some of the aforementioned scientific process behind these solar cells, as well as applications and examples which highlight the ultra-thinness. These include:

  1. Being wrapped around the edge of a glass slide.
  2. Being wrapped around a cotton swab.
  3. Integrated onto a pair of smart glasses.
  4. Integrated onto a piece of fabric

Jongho Lee, an engineer at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, says in the press release that these cells may “power the next wave of wearable electronics.”

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About The Author

Greg Vellante is a staff writer and multimedia specialist at TecHome Builder, as well as a content coordinator for AE Ventures events. He has over a decade of experience writing for various publications on topics that range from cinema to editorials to home technology. His favorite technologies fall into the A/V and home entertainment realm, and he’s keeping a close eye on the rising trends in robotics and virtual/augmented reality. Greg resides in Boston, holds a degree in Media Studies from Emerson College and pursues screenwriting/filmmaking in his free time.

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