• Peel-and-stick solar technology applied to a variety of surfaces.

    Credit: Courtesy of Stanford University

    Peel-and-stick solar technology applied to a variety of surfaces.

Stanford University has been on a roll recently with regard to solar energy advances. Following up on an earlier post I wrote about Zhenan Bao's all-carbon solar cell is a peel-and-stick solar technology devised by mechanical engineering professor Xiaolin Zheng.

Zheng's invention is a welcome addition to the renewable-energy industry, which is accustomed to solar panels being heavy, rigid devices with limited constraints in terms of applicability. “Nonconventional or ‘universal’ substrates are difficult to use for photovoltaics because they typically have irregular surfaces and they don’t do well with the thermal and chemical processing necessary to produce today’s solar cells,” said Zheng in a Stanford press release. “We got around these problems by developing this peel-and-stick process, which gives thin-film solar cells flexibility and attachment potential we’ve never seen before, and also reduces their general cost and weight.”

Not only are the new cells more flexible and adaptable, but they also exhibit the same level of efficiency as their rigid counterparts. Moreover, the technology may be repositioned without loss of efficacy. “There’s also no waste. The (Si) wafer is typically undamaged and clean after removal of the solar cells, and can be reused," Zheng said.

Thus far, Zheng and her team have demonstrated the peel-and-stick technology on window glass, plastic mobile phone casings, and paper cards. Although hard-wiring is still necessary to deliver power to remote sources, the near-universal applicability of the solar cells is significant. “Now you can put them on helmets, cell phones, convex windows, portable electronic devices, curved roofs, clothing—virtually anything,” she added.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.