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All that glitters....might be a solar cell

Solar cells the size of glitter could lead to novel applications in power generation that sound a bit like something out of a science fiction thriller. Sandia National Labs researchers are fabricating the cells with microelectronic and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) techniques common to today's electronic foundries.

Sandia researchers say the hope is to come up with cells that could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing. Moreover, such microengineered panels of this sort could potentially take over functions customarily left to large-scale solar panels with their attendant need for field construction and permits.

Sandia says such devices could conceivably have intelligent controls, inverters and even storage built in at the chip level. And glitter-sized cells use 100 times less crystalline silicon to generate the same amount of electricity as conventional panels, researchers say.

Because the cells are only hundreds of micrometers in diameter, they can be fabricated from commercial wafers of any size. And one bad cell detected during manufacturing doesn't cause a problem, unlike in brick-sized units where the entire wafer may be unusable if it contains one bad spot. Also, the small-cell approach and its individualized wiring, would need relatively tiny wiring connections that take up little space.

Researchers also say the shade tolerance of glitter-sized units beats that of conventional PV panels because glitter particles still in the sun will keep sending out electricity where a partially shaded conventional panel may turn off entirely.

Even better, the Sandia-created cells exhibit 14.9% efficiency, competitive with that of off-the-shelf commercial modules which ranges from 13 to 20% efficient.

Here is Sandia's release on the development:

TAGS: Solar
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