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Researchers develop woven fibre-based solar cells

Posted: 19 Dec 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:optical fibre  solar cell  fabric 

Penn State University researchers have demonstrated for the first time, a silicon-based optical fibre with solar-cell capabilities that is scalable to many meters in length.

The research, led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, is said to open the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved or twisted solar fabrics.

The team's new findings build on earlier work addressing the challenge of merging optical fibres with electronic chips, silicon-based integrated circuits that serve as the building blocks for most semiconductor electronic devices such as solar cells, computers and cell phones. Rather than merge a flat chip with a round optical fibre, the team found a way to build a new kind of optical fibre, with its own integrated electronic component, thereby bypassing the need to integrate fibre-optics with chips. To do this, they used high-pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials directly, layer by layer, into tiny holes in optical fibres.

 silicon-based optical fibre

A cross-sectional image of the new silicon-based optical fibre. Shown are layers, labelled n+, i and p+, that have been deposited inside the pore of the fibre: Source—Penn State University.

Now, in their new research, the team members have used the same high-pressure chemistry techniques to make a fibre out of crystalline silicon semiconductor materials that can function as a solar cell, a photovoltaic device that can generate electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct-current electricity. "Our goal is to extend high-performance electronic and solar-cell function to longer lengths and to more flexible forms. We already have made meters-long fibres but, in principle, our team's new method could be used to create bendable silicon solar-cell fibres of over 10m in length," Badding said. "Long, fibre-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn't really do before: We can take the silicon fibres and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing and biomedical devices."

Woven, fibre-based solar cells would be lightweight, flexible configurations that are portable, foldable and even wearable." This material could then be connected to electronic devices to power them and charge their batteries. "The military especially is interested in designing wearable power sources for soldiers in the field," Badding added.

The team members believe that another advantage of flexibility in solar-cell materials is the possibility of collecting light energy at various angles. "A typical solar cell has only one flat surface," Badding said. "But a flexible, curved solar-cell fabric would not be as dependent upon where the light is coming from or where the sun is in the horizon and the time of day."

Pier J. A. Sazio of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and one of the team's leaders added, "Another intriguing property of these silicon-fibre devices is that as they are so compact, they can have a very fast response to visible laser light. In fact, we fabricated fibre-based photodetectors with a bandwidth of over 1.8GHz."

- Julien Happich
  EE Times

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