The solar cell business has recently gotten a boost with the advent of thin film solar, in which solar cells are manufactured on thin, flexible sheets of polymer (plastic) that are capable of being applied to a wider range of objects and materials than the traditional silicon cells, including smaller, more irregularly-shaped items and even clothing.
Risø DTU, a laboratory at the Technical University of Denmark with a focus on sustainable energy, has begun promoting polymer solar cells as a cheaper alternative to silicon cells. They recently developed a small, lightweight flashlight powered entirely by the sun via polymer solar cells. The flashlight looks like a credit card, and the polymer cells power a lithium polymer battery, which in turn lights the LED (light emitting diode) at the top.
The flashlights, and their cells, were produced jointly by Risø and Mekoprint, a Danish company specializing in thin-film and membrane electronics, in the hopes of promoting polymer cells and polymer cell production. To illustrate the benefits of polymer cells, they gave out 10,000 solar-powered flashlights at 2011’s LOPE-C,a business and technology conference and industry showcase for companies in the field of printed and organic electronics.
Polymer cells are not yet widely available on the commercial market, and many products are still in experimental or prototype phases. This was one of the focuses at LOPE-C this year, where a “road map” was discussed in the hopes of solving some of the problems that are preventing this technology from being commercially available, including its mass production. Mekoprint and Risø hope that the flashlights and their production will show that studying this technology is a worthwhile endeavor, and that they will serve as an inspiration to companies looking to break into the thin film field.