This is the handiest thing to come out of UCLA since those stretchy, glowing devices that can “move with the body.” (Aka, a raver's dreamwear.)
Now, UCLA is expanding its stretch-nology into the Big Green industry.
A new method of collecting the sun's energy and using it to power man's devices is being perfected by Yang Yang, a researcher with the university's School of Engineering. Just yesterday, Yang announced…
… that his signature brand of cheap, bendy “solar cell” has broken the world efficiency record in its class by converting 10.6 percent of sunlight into power.
Within five years, Yang says he fully expects to raise his cells' efficiency to 15 or even 20 percent — allowing them to power everyday machines like cars and cell phones.
The cells are made of “organic polymer” instead of the traditional silicon, making them more flexible than those used in today's brittle solar panels. Embed the new flexi-cells into a sheet, says Yang, and the possibilities will be endless. We'll be able to hang solar shades in front of our windows; apply them like stickers (in different colors!) to the rooftops of our electric cars; even slap them onto the backs of our iPhones.
“Wouldn't it be nice if your phone case is a solar cell, so you can charge it while you eat your lovely lunch?” says Yang.
Why yes, mister genius sir. That would be nice.
Yang says the stretchy solar panels could be packaged as “a roll of plastic” — much like the paper-thin posters hanging from Los Angeles streetlights — and could be applied as a “laminate” to any surface we please.
Before this latest milestone, Yang also broke the efficiency record in July, when his cells converted 8.6 percent of sunlight into power. But in an explosive wintertime collaboration with Japanese company Sumitomo Chemical (yes, Asia is taking over the world), Yang says he added a special Sumitomo layer to his cells that allowed them to pick up more of the infrared spectrum. (That is, light with a longer wavelength and lower frequency than light visible to the human eye.)
Yang says he traveled to Japan himself and asked the company, “How about giving me some material?” Which they did. But the UCLA scientist still has no idea how this extra layer of material works its magic.
“They have their secrets, we have ours,” he says. “It's a win-win situation.”
The real invention here is a new new “tandem” structure that allows different solar cells absorbing different spectrums of light — like the Japanese infrared layer — to be stacked seamlessly on top of each other.
“Envision a double-decker bus,” Yang explains in the UCLA press release. (Phew, back to kindergarten-speak.) “The bus can carry a certain number of passengers on one deck, but if you were to add a second deck, you could hold many more people for the same amount of space. That's what we've done here with the tandem polymer solar cell.”
And on a budget, to boot:
“Everything is done by a very low-cost wet-coating process,” Yang said. “As this process is compatible with current manufacturing, I anticipate this technology will become commercially viable in the near future.”
So, entrepreneurs/future-winners: We recommend you hit this dude up, because as soon as Yang is able to turbo-charge his solar cells with 15 to 20 percent of the sun's energy, these things are going to go like hotcakes. Pink glittery solar Snuggie for the iPet, please?