Email Print Share
December 27, 2022

Paper Thin Solar Cells

Engineers at MIT have developed paper-thin solar cells that can turn any surface into a power source.

Credit: National Science Foundation

When you think of solar power, probably the first thing that comes to mind are those large, heavy roof-mounted panels. But what if size and weight were no longer a concern? We'll explore the future of solar power in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

We've seen solar panels on homes or parking structures. And in the western United States you might see large fields of them. But in the future, you might find them on your clothes. Could the pocket your phone is in be charging it at the same time?

Supported in part by NSF, researchers at MIT have developed paper-thin ultralight fabric solar cells that can turn nearly any surface into a power source.

Using various printing techniques, nanomaterial based electronic inks are deposited on a substrate which can then be transferred onto a fabric. The fully printed module is only 15 microns thick, for comparison, a strand of human hair is nearly five times thicker.

Integrated onto fabrics, they are one-hundredth the weight of typical solar panels and generate 18 times more power per kilogram.

The lightweight nature of the cells opens a world of possibilities, they could be used in clothing, on boat sails while at sea, or applied to drones to extend their flying range. In a disaster scenario, they could be applied to tents and tarps to help power recovery operations while electricity is restored.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to “NSF’s Discovery Files” podcast.

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.