Peel-and-stick solar panels

Decal-like application process lets you stick thin, flexible solar panels onto virtually any surface, from roofs to window panes and paper
December 24, 2012

Peel-off solar cells applied to a cell phone (credit: Chi Hwan Lee et al./Scientific Reports)

Stanford University researchers have developed the world’s first peel-and-stick thin-film solar cells.

The thin-film solar cells can be applied to “paper, plastic, and window glass, helmets, cell phones, convex windows, portable electronic devices, curved roofs, clothing — virtually anything,” and without modifying any existing processes, facilities or materials, said Xiaolin Zheng, a Stanford assistant professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of a paper in the Dec. 20 issue of the open-access Scientific Reports.

The researchers believe the process can also be used with thin-film electronics, including printed circuits, ultra-thin transistors and LCDs.

“Obviously, a lot of new products — from ‘smart’ clothing to new aerospace systems — might be possible by combining both thin-film electronics and thin-film solar cells,” observes Zheng.

What’s more, he notes, the peel-and-stick qualities probably aren’t restricted to Ni/SiO2. “It’s likely many other material interfaces demonstrate similar qualities, and they may have certain advantages for specific applications.  We have a lot left to investigate.”

It would be interesting to see if this process would work with MIT’s graphene-nanowire solar cells, for example. — Ed.

How to apply solar cells to a cell phone: (1) Deposit a 300-nanometer film of nickel (Ni) on a silicon/silicon dioxide (Si/SiO2) wafer, then deposit thin-film solar cells on the nickel layer, cover with a layer of protective polymer (plastic film), and attach thermal-release tape to the top of the thin-film solar cells. (2) Peel off the the solar cell from the wafer by submerging the wafer in water at room temperature and peel back the edge of the thermal release tape slightly, allowing water to seep into and penetrate between the nickel and silicon dioxide interface, which frees the solar cell from the hard substrate (the wafer can be reused). To remove the thermal release tape, heat the tape and solar cell to 90°C for several seconds. (3) Apply the solar cell to virtually any surface using double-sided tape or other adhesive. (4) Remove the thermal release tape, leaving just the solar cell attached to the cell phone. (Credit: Chi Hwan Lee et al./Scientific Reports)