The new flexible cells can power source or be integrated into skin-based or implantable medical devices
Scientists have devised a new generation of thin, lightweight and flexible solar cells using inkjet printing. The cells are scalable and can capture energy from light, thereby offer an alternative way to power novel electronic devices.
The new design, conceptualised by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, makes it possible for these cells to power source or be integrated into skin-based or implantable medical devices.
Unlike the ultrathin organic solar cells manufactured so far — which were made by depositing uniform thin films onto flat substrates via a process called spin-coating — the new cells have been printed using inkjet printing.
The process is low-cost and involves the use of an inkjet printer to lay down the semiconductor material and electrodes onto a solar cell substrate.
The previous ultrathin solar cells used indium tin oxide (ITO) as an electrode. ITO is highly conductive but a brittle and inflexible material.
“We formulated functional inks for each the layer of the solar cell architecture,” said Daniel Corzo, a PhD student in team of Derya Baran, the scientist who led the research.
“The tremendous developments in electronic skin for robots, sensors for flying devices and biosensors to detect illness are all limited in terms of energy sources,” says Eloïse Bihar, a postdoctoral in Baran’s team.
He added that using lightweight, ultrathin organic solar cells to harvest energy from light, whether indoors or outdoors was a more feasible option in the face of using bulky batteries.
Despite the benefits of inkjet printing in scaling up manufacturing, developing the functional inks was a challenge, Corzo said: “Inkjet printing is a science on its own. The intermolecular forces within the cartridge and the ink need to be overcome to eject very fine droplets from the very small nozzle.”
The power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the new solar cells was found to be 4.73 per cent, more than 4.1 per cent for a fully printed cell.
The findings are a stepping-stone for a new generation of versatile, ultralightweight printed solar cells, Bihar said.
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