Solar Energy Cells Printed On Paper At MIT

No, seriously, you can print a photovoltaic cell on a piece of paper? Incredible as it sounds, that’s exactly what a team of researchers at MIT has pulled off, offering the possibility of a very cheap and easy way to produce solar cells for disposable consumer goods, wall or window coverings and other applications.

According to the university, this new technique of printing cells on ordinary, uncoated paper “represents a major departure from the systems used until now to create most solar cells, which require exposing the substrates to potentially damaging conditions, either in the form of liquids or high temperatures.” Vapors instead of liquids are the key to the new process, keeping temperatures at a much lower level – less than 120 degrees Celsius. “These ‘gentle’ conditions,” the university said, “make it possible to use ordinary untreated paper, cloth or plastic as the substrate on which the solar cells can be printed.”

solar cells printed on paper, MIT

image via MIT

The new technology for creating solar power was developed by a team of chemical engineers and electrical engineers at MIT. Right now the process, which deposits five layers of material onto the same sheet of paper in successive passes, puts out a solar cell with just 1 percent efficiency. But the researchers say they’re working to boost that figure and, anyway, it’s already “good enough to power a small electric gizmo.”

And two other attributes also make the solar-on-paper cells especially viable: They function “even when folded up into a paper airplane,” the researchers said, and have a low sensitivity to humidity.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Crmyx3

    So wait, could we attach a small motor and propeller powered by the solar cells on a paper airplane and fly forever?

    • sunnypdx

      Maybe. If you can keep up with the sun!