By Meghna Murali
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have come up with an alternative to the hydrophobic nature of solar cells and have called them “waterproof solar cells”.
The creation of waterproof solar cells
The solar cell has undergone various changes over the years. From bulky to thin, researchers have continuously tried to develop something new in the field of solar technology. The scientists at Riken and University of Tokyo have modified the solar cell into an ultra-thin photovoltaic device and have published their findings in ‘Nature Energy’. These cells measure just three-millionths of a meter. They developed an organic photovoltaic cell from a stretchy material named ‘PNTz4T’. This ultra-thin cell was then coated with identical elastomers on either side. Thus, the cell was able to let light and air pass through even in the presence of water. They also continued to produce electricity after losing their original shape. These attributes increased the longevity of the solar cells.
“I believe that our result is the first-time demonstration of achieving the high-performance, high-efficiency energy conversion, and the waterproof properties and stretchability,” says Fukuda (Scientist at RIKEN [Rikagaku Kenkyūsho]). After creating a prototype of the cell, they subjected it to various tests. At the end of these tests, the cells showcased a strong energy efficiency rating, of 7.9 percent. It also produced a current of 7.86 mill-watts per square centimetre. The cell’s waterproof nature was also tested, by immersing it in water. The cell still showed a phenomenal behaviour with its efficiency decreasing only by 5.4%.
Multipurpose solar cells
Adding solar cells to clothing is not a new thing. Tommy Hilfiger, in 2014, designed a limited edition solar panel jacket. However, these jackets never made it to production due to the bulky nature of the solar cells. They also showed reduced durability and were found to be very expensive, making it a financially unfeasible idea.
Takao Someya, the leader of the research group, critically analysed the problems in the existing solar cells. He focused on three main parameters- longer resistivity, stability in air and water, and energy efficiency. The fabrication of waterproof and stretchy solar cells has opened up opportunities in the medical sector. Stitching these cells onto clothing can help in the measurement of body temperature and heartbeats, which traditionally requires a continuous supply of power. The incorporation of solar cells onto clothing offers a much cheaper solution and is a cost-effective idea for the future.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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