Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have developed tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that can revolutionize the way solar energy is being harvested and used. Even at their small size the tiny cells show the potential to give conventional photovoltaic panels a run for their money. Fabricated from crystalline silicon, the new cells will eventually be less expensive and have greater efficiencies than current photovoltaic collectors that are made with 6-inch-square solar wafers.
The new cells are fabricated using microelectronic and microelectromechanical systems that give them more applications, improved performance and reduced cost. The team believes that the units could easily be mass-produced using existing fabrication technology and could be used in building integrated photovoltaics, tents, and even clothing. Moreover, these microengineered panels will also have imprinted circuits, intelligent controls, inverters and even storage built at chip level.
While the research team has figured out a lot of benefits of these tiny glitter-sized solar cells, the main ones include their ability to continuously generate power if some of the cells in the panel fail. Moreover, since the cells are so small, the shade tolerance of the units to overhead obstructions is better than conventional PV panels since when portions of the new panel are in shade, the other part keeps producing electricity.
The research team believes that a widely used commercial tool called a pick-and-place machine can be used to assemble up to 130,000 pieces of glitter cells per hour at electrical contact points pre-established on a substrate. To even increase their energy output, low-cost solar concentrators can be placed on top of each cells making these small cells produce more energy at very affordable cost.