David Brin: Solar cells thinner than a thread of spider silk

05 Energy
David Brin

Solar cells thinner than a thread of spider silk created by scientists

Solar cells thinner than a thread of spider silk and so flexible they can be wrapped around a single human hair have been created by scientists.

By Danielle Demetriou, Tokyo

The Telegraph, 09 Apr 2012

The ultra-thin film consists of electrodes on a plastic foil and measures only 1.9 micrometres in thickness – a tenth of the thinnest solar cells currently available, according to researchers in Austria and Japan.

The fact it is extremely thin, light and flexible paves the way for a number of new future uses, including portable electrical charging devices or electronic textiles worn on clothing.

Unveiling the research in a report published by the on-line science journal Nature Communications, the researchers said: “The total thickness of this device is less than a typical thread of spider silk.”

Tsuyoshi Sekitani, from the University of Tokyo, added: “Being ultra-thin means you don’t feel its weight and it is elastic.

“You could attach the device t your clothes like a badge to collect electricity [from the sun]. Elderly people who might want to wear sensors to monitor their health would not need to carry around batteries.”

Solar power is the focus of growing attention among scientists and consumers like in Japan, as the public increasingly favours alternative energy sources following last year’s nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

It is hoped that the new ultra-thin solar cells, which were created jointly by researchers from Johannes Kepler University of Austria and contributors from University of Tokyo, will be put to practical use within around five years.

The research team are now working on increasing the rate at which the device is able to convert sunlight into electricity in order to apply it to specific appliances, as well as exploring an increase in cell size, according to Dr Sekitani.

“Power generation by solar cells increases with their size,” he told AFP. “As this device is soft, it is less prone to damage by bending even if it gets bigger.”

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