HomeHeadlineRevolutionizing Solar Energy: Researchers Achieve Unprecedented Breakthrough with Bendable, Waterproof Solar Cell

Revolutionizing Solar Energy: Researchers Achieve Unprecedented Breakthrough with Bendable, Waterproof Solar Cell

If recent research from Japan’s RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science takes off, washing machine makers may need to start adding a “solar film” function to control panels. 

That’s because the experts at RIKEN have created a flexible, sun-catching material that can work after being submerged in water. Fascinatingly, it survived a wash cycle, as well. 

The plan for the photovoltaic film — a material capable of turning sunlight into electricity — is for it to be attached to clothing. It’s durable and should be able to endure rain, according to a report on the breakthrough from RIKEN. 

The team envisions portable solar power cells energizing monitors for medical devices without the need for batteries. To unlock the potential, the experts created a material that achieved waterproof ability without reducing flexibility. 

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Photovoltaic films typically have numerous layers, including one that can capture energy from sun rays. In a fairly complex and technical-sounding process, the experts “[created] better adhesion between the layers,” which include an anode, a cathode, and electrons in the process. 

The work involved annealing, heating the film to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours, per the lab report. 

“It was challenging to form the layer, but we were happy to have accomplished it, and in the end were able to create a film that was just 3 micrometers thick, and we looked forward to seeing the results of tests,” Sixing Xiong, the first author of the paper, said

Wearable power supply development is happening at labs elsewhere, too. Researchers at North Carolina State are developing a yarn-like supercapacitor that could be woven into clothing, potentially making your favorite shirt a mini powerhouse for wearable devices. 

Researchers in Australia are working with solar tech like the RIKEN team. The invention Down Under involves thin, flexible solar cells that can be printed and potentially placed on buildings, cars, and clothes. 

In Japan, RIKEN’s testing produced impressive results. After being submerged in water for four hours, the solar cells retained 89% of their performance. After being stretched — 300 times, also underwater — the cells retained mostly all of their capability. Finally, in an attempted coup de grace, the material was put in a washing machine. 

“… And it survived the ordeal, something that has never been achieved before,” the RIKEN lab summary notes

If you are ready to take advantage of the burgeoning solar power sector now, you don’t have to wait for the laundry to finish. Steep tax breaks are making home-based systems more affordable than ever. Once installed, you can save $1,500 a year on energy costs, preventing 8,500 pounds of air pollution from being emitted. That’s 85,000 pounds in a decade.

That means cleaner air and a reduction in asthma and other health risks linked to pollution. 

In the meantime, the RIKEN team hopes to soon offer its waterproof, sun-catching material for practical use. 

“… We plan to further develop our ultrathin organic solar cells so that they can be used for really practical wearable devices,” Kenjiro Fukuda, one of the corresponding authors, said.

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