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Scientists Create Flexible Solar Panels That Turn Into Wallpaper, Window Shades

Nov 02, 2016 10:51 AM EDT

A team of scientists from Virginia Tech is working on a revolutionary way on how to use solar panels by making it flexible, turning them into everyday objects while producing renewable solar energy.

According to the research published in the journal ACS Energy Letters, this new technology allows solar panels to become more flexible and be transformed into wallpapers, window shades and other indoor fixtures. These flexible solar panels are designed to absorb light from inside and outside the building, recycling it to light energy.

The solar modules is just half a millimeter thick, has five layers and similar to a tile used in bathrooms. The thin, flexible structure is made possible through a screen-printing process that uses low-temperature titanium oxide paste .

"There are several elements that make the technology very appealing. First, it can be manufactured easily at low temperature, so the equipment to fabricate the panels is relatively inexpensive and easy to operate," said Shashank Priya, a team of mechanical and materials engineers and chemists at Virginia Tech and lead author of the study via Science Daily.

"Second, the scalability of being able to create the panels in sheet rolls means you could wallpaper your home in these panels to run everything from your alarm system, to recharging your devices, to powering your LED lights," Priya added.

Because of its tile-like structure, the flexible solar panels can be combined to cover large panels inside houses and buildings. A single panel can produce 75 milliwats of power. This means that if combined into a size of a standard sheet of paper, the solar panel will be able to power a smartphone, the study notes.

Besides its tile-like flexible structure, what makes this flexible solar panel special is its ability to absorb sunlight as well as diffused light from LED, incandescent and fluorescent light. This is a great leap from typical silicon-based solar panels, which can only absorb sunlight.

Priya said that the current efficiency of the solar cells can compete to silicon-based ones available in the market, but further research is needed to create an efficient flexible solar panel.

"Right now we are on the cutting edge of this technology. Our edge is in the ability to fabricate large-area modules with high efficiency. We are actively working to integrate the product with the market and we see a wide variety of uses for the technology, from clothing to windows, to smart buildings to UAVs to mobile charging stations," Priya said.

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