Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Apr 16

Artificial Electronic Super Skin – Powered By Stretchable Solar Cells

Posted in Energy Inventions | Photovoltaic Cells | Solar Power

Artificial Electronic Super Skin Zhenan Bao, Stanford researcher, is keen to create “Super skin.” Taking her previously created super-sensitive sensor a step ahead, she is now creating a super skin that will be self-powered with renewable clean solar energy. Bao and her team have designed polymer solar cells that are flexible and can be stretched to power the ‘super skin’.

Previous sensor

Ms Bao had successfully built a sensor flexible and very sensitive to any pressure. It was able to detect even touch-down pressure of a fly. She had made this over a foundation of a flexible organic transistor made of supple polymers and materials which are carbon based. Touch-sensing is achieved by the fluctuations in the current flow which is caused by an elastic rubber layer shaped like myriad inverted pyramids.

Rationale for sensing

Changing the transistor’s semiconducting material according to the type of material kept on sensor, the sensor can sense whether it is touching a chemical or a biological material. The semiconducting material can be just a nanometer or two layers only thick for the expected detection to occur. By changing the structural characteristics of the transistor as needed, the super skin detects chemicals in liquid or vapour state and bio matters like proteins.

Useful for disease detection

Super skin being able to detect diseases by sensing the biomarker proteins corresponding to individual diseases, this can be taken a step further by fitting robots with super skins and allowing the robots to detect by touch whether a person has s disease-confirming biomarker or robot can test the sweat for drunkenness etc.

Need for power to send the data

When the sensors detect the nature of the materials being tested, they have to send the data to a computer or a researcher. Instead of connecting to a power supply or batteries, incorporating polymer solar cells is a better idea as this will enable the sensors to be portable and less cumbersome and be more eco-friendly.

Stretchable solar cells

Bao’s research papers mention of unidirectional stretchable nature of the solar cells, but Bao maintains that their solar cells are capable of stretching in both axes. Solar cells even in the stretched state generate power for sending the data collected by the sensors. A wavy microstructure is the reason for cells’ stretchable nature. They expand to some 30% excess of their normal length and snap back to original condition.

Use for stretchable solar cells

Stretchable materials are stronger and it can be a very useful and valuable feature in many scenarios. Darren Lipomi, a graduate student & lead author said, “One of the applications where stretchable solar cells would be useful is in fabrics for uniforms and other clothes.” The stretchable solar cells can also be integrated into curved areas like lenses, arches in buildings or car exteriors etc. also.

Eco friendly transistors

Today Bao has managed to make a green savvy version of the transistor made with materials that are biodegradable. Whatever materials go to make the transistor and its parts will not pose a threat to the environment. The super skin is much more than a human skin and now is totally eco-friendly, and will be powered by renewable energy source like solar energy.

  • Scott

    What the heck does it do?

  • Annie

    that’s what i’m wondering too

  • Ed

    This will allow us to put solar "panels" on any surface. Flat or curved. As well as clothing. Energy collection everywhere!

  • Marlene


  • Arvind

    awsum :-)thanks ed

  • Malyq


  • Mahender

    That means you can even hang up the polymer solar unit 4m out a window or any other suitable place, to collect solar energy… or we can even frequently change the position of the unit as per the availability of sunlight during the daytime. Superb idea and I think it’ll surely enhance the efficiency of the panel!

  • Scott

    Last time I checked, “collecting energy” meant actually getting enough to do something, not just move a meter.

  • Vincent

    The material could at least be used to charge your cell phone while it was in your pocket or maybe a laptop. Or perhaps be the surface on an electric car and charge the battery sitting in the parking lot while your at work.

  • Gene

    Lets see it in action, sounds good

  • AndrewW

    Dopey. Researchers sometimes spin tiny improvements into millions for research. We should be focused on solutions, not minor advancements that are “cool.”

    Where’s the “clean, affordable electricity” Stanford researchers? Where the affordable replacement for foreign oil?

    How about focusing on breakthroughs that will actually make a difference?

  • Scotty

    I feel that this invention and any future inventions will only help to promote Clean Energy Production that has no after effects: Such as Radio Active Waste, Reactor Melt Downs, and Exhausts. True Clean Green Energy has none of these issues.

  • round4

    The article is talking about an artificial human skin that is sensitive enough to feel the pressure of a fly landing on its surface. No where in the article does it say what the electricity would be used for. How much skin would you have to expose to create a useful voltage to run something? Would you go naked in the tropics at noon just to charge your cell phone? I can see all kinds of uses on other inanimate objects, but the article is definitely focused on the use for human skin and yet makes no mention of its usefulness in that application. I would think that as a robot’s skin it would have a function helping to provide power to the machine, but people don’t usually require power other than food.

  • John

    I am seeing Solar Spandex! They are putting solar to work all over the place. Solar backpacks to charge your laptop and other devices. Solar powered steetlights. There is an aftermarket solar kit for Prius that can increase the gas mileage to 100mpg. This flexible collector could be used for solar on sailboats.

  • Ml

    The idea is relevant to being able to personally produce some portion of the energy we consume using the clothing that we wear. If enough of us are able to off set some portion of commercial production through personally no/low polluting means such as installing solar papels, wind turbines and composting toliets; our dependance on fossil fuels and that associated ecocontamination would be reduced.

  • Dion

    Not sure if I would want to wear clothing that produced an EMF constantly. EMF radiation and health is a real issue. EMF radiation however is inversely exponentially proportional to the distance from the EMF source. But right on the skin; probably not a good idea. I like the Solar Sail idea though and other ‘flexible’ applications.

  • Ark

    It could be useful for epidemic outbreaks, soldier robots could safely quarantine infected individuals. Also police robots (with this skin) could be placed at toll booths to control drink driving. It would also be a great tool for exploring other planets.

  • ES

    Wow… cool doesn’t begin to describe this technology. The potential for small scale electricity generation has so many applications that it staggers the mind. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

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