Transparent, Flexible Solar Cells Could Generate Power On Any Surface

Photo: Stuart Darsch
Photo: Stuart Darsch
In Star Wars, Transparisteel is a material that, as its name implies, is as hard as steel and transparent as glass–a perfect material for making blaster-proof windows and cockpit canopies for rebel starfighters.

We are not yet at the point of making Transparisteel, but researchers at MIT have developed a graphene-based material that can function as solar cells (nothing revolutionary here), is flexible (that’s not bad, practical even) and transparent (Woo!). Yup, a flexible, transparent solar cell.

This Transparicell (I made that name up) can be deposited onto flexible substrates including plastic, opaque paper, and translucent Kapton tape, so peel-and-stick solar cells and paper electronics would be possible. The ability to deposit the solar cell on any surface makes it promising for use in consumer electronics. For example, solar cells could be fabricated directly onto cell phones and laptops rather than made separately and then installed, significantly reducing manufacturing costs.

Imagine a future where transparent solar cells are all around us: not just coated on windows and walls, but also on cell phones, laptops, tools and other structures, turning virtually any surface into a source of electric power. For example, all windows and walls in your house could be coated with transparent solar cells, generating electricity for household uses. I can let my imagination run wild here and imagine windows that, as they let light in, are also generating the power they need to power some of the electronics embedded within them (e.g. for head-up displays or reacting to the heat by becoming progressively opaque).