High-Tech Glitter to Create Flexible Solar Panels

By Adam Hadhazy, Special to LiveScience (Photo Credit: Murat Okandan/Sandia National Laboratories) Tiny solar cells may be a big step forward in expanding the use of solar power.

Researchers have unveiled super-small solar cells no bigger than the pieces of glitter on your holiday ornaments and cards. These highly efficient photovoltaics could be game-changers in the burgeoning field of solar power, allowing arrays of microcells to be placed on bendable or curved surfaces and even woven into clothing.

Unlike the conventional, rigid solar cells deployed as flat panels on rooftops, for instance, the new miniscule cells could be encapsulated in flexible plastic and made to fit virtually any object.

"With this technology, one can envision ubiquitous [solar-powered] devices," said Greg Nielson, lead investigator at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

The prototype versions of the microcells are stored in vials of isopropyl alcohol, and, in keeping with the winter season, if you shake the vials "it does look like a snow globe with flakes swirling around inside," said Nielson, as the tiny, shiny contraptions catch the light.

How it works
Like most snowflakes, the microcells are six-sided to maximize available space by interlocking like honeycomb, or the panels on a soccer ball...MORE...

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