Just when you think scientists can't make solar panels better, they come up with the next best thing. At this point in time there are so many different technologies involved with the evolution of solar power, you'll have a very difficult time deciding which is best. While Elon Musk is moving forward with solar shingles and researchers at MIT have developed cells that can balance on a soap bubble without bursting it, those smart guys in South Korea are literally thinning things down.
Ultra-Thin Photovoltaic Cells
Thin photovoltiac panels, also known as thin film, isn't the most effective panels on the market. Even though they can bend and don't take up much space, they haven't reached a point where they can take your home off the grid. However, they are useful in many other ways. For example, they can be used with camping gear and clothing. In fact, they are very practical when it comes to charging your phone on the go. You don't even have to look very far for items such as backpacks and purses that sport thin film panels, specifically aimed at charging mobile electronic items.
What makes this new ultra thin cells so special is that they can bend much further than typical thin film panels and still be effective. The moment these panels bend they lose some efficiency, and even though it's the same case with the thinner model from South Korea, they don't lose as much efficiency as the current models.
Jongho Lee is one of the engineers working on the project and they operate out of the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. According to him the thinner cell is 1 micrometer thick, whereas a human hair ranges between 10 and 200 micrometers. Thanks to this "thin" quality, it's capable of bending around an incredibly tiny radius, and still capture sunlight.
The Science behind the Thinner Cell
Semiconductor material and gallium arsenide was used to create the material. They literally stamp the cells onto a subtrate that is flexible and comes with an electrode layer. After the cells get stamped on the subtrate they are cold-welded to the electrodes, ultimately producing these mind blowing sources of energy. At face value it seems like a pretty simple process, but in reality it required quite a lot of research to take the concept from theory to reality.
What does it mean to Consumers?
It's not the type of panels you are going to install on your roof, but you'll probably start seeing more and more clothes and accessories accompanied with the thin solar cell. Being less fragile and more adaptable, it's only obvious that people will use it in their everyday apparel.