As snowstorms sweep the country, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are warming up our winter blues with the creation of these gorgeous snowflake-shaped photovoltaic cells. The glitter-sized solar sequins are made from crystalline silicon and use 100 times less material to generate the same amount of electricity as standard solar cells made from 6-inch square solar wafers. Perfect for soaking up the sun’s rays on unusual shapes and surfaces, the solar cells are expected to be less expensive, more efficient, and have promising applications in textiles and clothing.
Sandia Labs‘ stunning new solar cells are created using cutting-edge micro-electric and micro-mechanical manufacturing techniques, which ensure their tiny size and a small margin of mechanical deformations. One benefit to their miniscule size is that if a single solar cell in an array were to die it would only marginally reduce the array’s efficiency – compare that to conventional arrays where a large faulty panel can cause a huge loss in power production.
The solar cells could be incorporated into unusual shapes and materials such as tents, building facades, and clothing, making it possible for people to recharge cell phones and other electronic devices as they walk around or rest. According to Sandia field engineer Vipin Gupta, their tiny size also means that they can be easily integrated into rooftop applications that have “intelligent controls, inverters and even storage built in at the chip level. Such an integrated module could greatly simplify the cumbersome design, bid, permit and grid integration process that our solar technical assistance teams see in the field all the time.”
As of now the solar cells are producing energy with 14.9 percent efficiency, which is pretty great compared to off-the-shelf commercial modules which range from 13 to 20 percent. As the technology is perfected and economies of scale pick up, these snowflake-shaped microcells will certainly be a hot technology to watch.
by Mike Chino, 12/23/09