Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells Available in Near Future

The NREL and Stanford are teaming up to develop peel-and-stick solar cells, which could become devices to charge battery operated products, such as cell phones, in the future.

Peel-and-stick, or water-assisted transfer printing (WTP), technologies were developed by the Stanford group and have been used before for nanowire based electronics, but the Stanford-NREL (U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory) partnership has conducted the first successful demonstration using actual thin film solar cells.

The university and NREL showed that thin-film solar cells less than one-micron thick can be removed from a silicon substrate used for fabrication by dipping them in water at room temperature. Then, after exposure to heat of about 90°C for a few seconds, they can attach to almost any surface.

NREL’s cells could be made easily on Stanford’s peel off substrate. NREL’s amorphous silicon cells were fabricated on nickel-coated Si/SiO2 wafers. A thermal release tape attached to the top of the solar cell serves as a temporary transfer holder. An optional transparent protection layer is spin-casted in between the thermal tape and the solar cell to prevent contamination when the device is dipped in water. The result is a thin strip much like a bumper sticker: the user can peel off the handler and apply the solar cell directly to a surface.

The cells’ ability to adhere to a universal substrate is unusual; most thin-film cells must be affixed to a special substrate. The peel-and-stick approach allows the use of flexible polymer substrates and high processing temperatures. The resulting flexible, lightweight, and transparent devices then can be integrated onto curved surfaces such as military helmets and portable electronics, transistors and sensors.

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