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The military is very interested in developing solar cells that can be created from flexible materials and therefore be woven into uniforms to provide individual soldiers with power stations for equipment in the field. However solar cells tend to be made from glass or plastics which are inflexible, and attempts to produce flexible cells have always run into problems.
Researchers from Penn State now believe that they have made a discovery that will enable solar cell fabrics to be produced within the near future.
John Badding, a chemistry professor at Penn State, explained that, “the team’s new findings build on earlier work addressing the challenge of merging optical fibres with electronic chips — silicon-based integrated circuits that serve as the building blocks for most semiconductor electronic devices such as solar cells, computers and cellphones. Rather than merge a flat chip with a round optical fibre, the team found a way to build a new kind of optical fibre — which is thinner than the width of a human hair — with its own integrated electronic component, thereby bypassing the need to integrate fibre-optics with chips. To do this, they used high-pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials directly, layer by layer, into tiny holes in optical fibres.”
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This same method was used to create a crystalline silicon semiconductor fibre which can generate electricity from sunlight.
“Our goal is to extend high-performance electronic and solar-cell function to longer lengths and to more flexible forms. We already have made meters-long fibres but, in principle, our team’s new method could be used to create bendable silicon solar-cell fibres of over 10 meters in length. Long, fibre-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn’t really do before: We can take the silicon fibres and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing and biomedical devices.”
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com