Researchers Design Solar Cells That Charge Phones With Ambient Light

Sunday, 12 November 2017 - 4:28PM
Sunday, 12 November 2017 - 4:28PM
Researchers Design Solar Cells That Charge Phones With Ambient Light
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When people think of solar panels, they usually think of the bulky rectangles made from silicon solar cells that you can attach to a household roof. They don't usually think of a neat design that you could print onto your backpack or t-shirt, which you could then hook up to your phone whenever you need to charge it.

And that's because solar-powered decals are only just starting to come around, with French solar energy company Dracula Technologies working on a new type of cheap, inkjet-printable solar cell that comes in a variety of shapes and colors.

More significantly, this type of plastic solar cell can absorb more than direct sunlight, with the ability to draw power from simple ambient light and artificial light from indoors. 

Their technology is called LAYER, short for "Light As Your Energetic Response." And while they're still being developed, the idea is that a LAYER sheet is lightweight and easy to fold, and made up from five layers: a photoactive layer in the center, covered on both sides by semiconductor sheets and a layer of conductive, colorful ink on the outside. 

According to physicist Sadok Ben Dkhil from Dracula Technologies:

Opening quote
"Our material can capture energy from indoor light, which isn't possible with silicon.... You can imagine printing it on a t-shirt and using that to charge your phone."
Closing quote

Once hooked up to a device, it can then start charging it, although Ben Dkhil goes on to say that he believes they're still a few months away from creating a LAYER powerful enough to charge a smartphone.

But they can already print a five centimeter square of LAYER material in about an hour, which isn't too bad for a plastic solar panel made using an inkjet printer. Dracula Technologies also implied LAYERs can be printed on things like backpacks, which get exposed to even more light, and somehow connected to a device from there (they did not elaborate on how they plan to do this). 

What this could eventually lead to is solar-powered designs which can be printed directly onto phones and other devices which run on charges or batteries. And from the sound of it, it's designed to be commercialized, with the resulting designs being shaped like an anchor, the Batman logo, a dinosaur skull, etc. 

It probably won't revolutionize the solar power industry, but it could make solar power a more common sight around town if it actually catches on - a similar spray-on solar cell hopes to do the same thing. Plus, it'd look cooler.
Science News