Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Jan 21

Self-Assembling Solar Cells

Posted in Energy Inventions | Photovoltaic Cells | Solar Power

Self-Assembling Solar Cells What can a scientist do with salad dressing apart from telling you that it increases the taste of salad manifold? But that’s the beauty of this profession. As Newton could give some theories when he saw an apple falling from a tree, salad dressing can inspire scientists towards a brand new type of solar cells. The researchers managed to create a cheap, efficient and very simple method of making solar cells. The USP of these solar cells is that they self-assemble on a variety of substrates. The new technique draws parallel from the fact that oil and water don’t mix at all. Another unique fact is forces the elements of electronic components for example solar cells assemble themselves at the boundaries between the two types of liquids. This work was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

University of Minnesota researchers used a number of other methods to create solar cells. It is believed that the technology can be used on commercial scale too. This method has one more benefit that it can force components to self-assemble onto a range of substrates, and not just a select, expensive few.

Till now scientists are applying the use of gravity on such mechanisms. Many lines are engraved on a substrate that was put inside a liquid. Now various electronic components settle down at designed locations. But such methods have their own limitations. They face problems like low yields, and low concentration. Therefore commercial application of such a mechanism was almost impossible. UM expert Heiko Jacobs, the leader of the research team, expresses his opinion, “That’s what we tried for at least two years and we were never able to assemble these components with high yield – gravity wasn’t working.”

He explained his innovative approach further, “Then we thought if we could concentrate them into a two-dimensional sheet and then have some kind of conveyor belt-like system we could assemble them with high yields and high speed.”

The researchers constructed a system at the boundary between water and oil. The substrate is dipped into the liquid, and then gently pulled out. Small components settle down into place, and the method is enormously effectual. The research team was successful to fit about 64,000 elements on a substrate in less than three minutes.

University of Washington in Seattle Nanoengineering Professor Babak Parviz explains, this work is a “clear demonstration that self-assembly is applicable across size scales. Self-assembly is probably the best method for integrating high-performance materials onto unconventional substrates.” Currently the UM team is trying to find out the minimum and maximum sizes that can be produced for electronic components. In short, we can say that the technology could transform the solar cell industry in that it allows for the large-scale assembly of high-quality electronic components.

The technology can be utilized for the highly efficient solar cells that can be built quickly and cheaply on various materials.

  • Cool…

    If they can use a paper battery or similar very flat battery type as a substrate and then make the whole thing water-tight by lamination then it could possibly be extremely cheap to create very large, cheap and flexible solar cells that also store some of the energy they gather. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    A tent could be made that also acts as a solar collector. Umbrellas, sails, canopies, etc… All would be very cool.

  • Angel

    The paper or flat surface battery idea above would be great. Street light poles and traffic signs could be made out of them or laminated with the solar cells sheet, this way it wouldn’t be necessary to have a separate solar collector arm or pole. Those are becoming very popular in cities and municipalities. But the solar boxes could be prone to vandalism and add another visual element to the streetscape that is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing.

  • Francisco A Roque

    They will look better as soon as they are placed on roofs to do their job and start saving barrels of oil.

  • sheckyvegas

    So our houses will smell like salad dressing?

  • Richard Fletcher

    Angel has very good point. I see lots of stop signs here in San Diego that are apparently solar power. Having this solar device could be very effective at potentially eliminating the essentially current solar panel currently stuck on a separate pole.

  • Brett

    Sounds interesting. The possibilities for covering non-flat surfaces would be greatly expanded with this technology, as long as the wiring can be addressed. Not only do standard solar cells require multiple steps to create, but they need to be wired in to a circuit that can carry the electrons away, and replace them. It comes down to the efficiency of the cells’ output relative to the sun energy hitting them, as well as the cost of manufacturing that will determine whether this is more than just an interesting idea. I would like to learn more.

  • suneel

    I am from India. Panels are exorbitantly expensive here. Do you have any suggestions
    reduce this


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