Paper airplanes with MIT solar technology can make electricity
Solar panels come in many forms: Crystalline silicon, thin film, even sprays and transparent plastic.
Time to add paper to the list.
A research team from the MIT has developed a flexible and extremely thin solar technology that, when printed, looks like an ordinary document ready to be stapled and turned in as homework.
But when wires are clipped to one end of a floppy sheet and set in the sun, it can power an LCD clock display and other small “gizmos,” researchers said. The technology may help push the solar industry away from hulking, expensive installations and toward options that can easily generate renewable electricity anywhere.
Using vaporous “inks” made from common elements rather than pricey, toxic components like tellurium, solar cells are deposited onto plain, untreated paper -- including tissue, tracing paper and even newsprint.
The process, which is similar to the one used to make the shiny interior of potato chip bags, is nearly as simple as ink-jet printing -- just with a vacuum chamber thrown in.
The pages can be molded into paper airplanes and still generate electricity when unfolded. They’re also long-lasting, according to researchers, who tested cells produced last year.
The technology, according to MIT engineers, is cheaper and more adaptable than current commercial solar options that use glass and require heavy support structures. Paper solar cells, they said, could be taped to a wall, attached to laptops or made into window shades and clothing, even laminated to protect against harsh weather.
It’ll be a while before commercialization, since researchers are still working on improving the device’s efficiency from its current 1%. But maybe Apple Inc., which has studied how to create a solar-powered touch screen for its smartphones, should call them up.
The MIT team reported the findings in the Advanced Materials journal this month. Watch the cell being folded below:
-- Tiffany Hsu
Photo: Graduate student Miles Barr hold a flexible and foldable array of solar cells that have been printed on a sheet of paper. Credit: Patrick Gillooly / MIT