Alternative Energy

Published on January 20th, 2010 | by Jennifer Lance


Glitter-Sized Solar Panels Use 100 Times Less Silicon to Generate Electricity

As a preschool teacher, glitter is part of my world. These tiny, shiny flecks are loved by little children, yet are detested for the problem their tiny size makes clean-up. Solar energy used to have the opposite problem: the large size of photovoltaic panels needed to produce energy was considered prohibitive for many applications.  Such concerns are no longer, as scientists have successfully developed “tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used.”

Photo by Mykl RoventineImagine glitter-sized solar panels!

Imagine glitter-sized solar panels!

Developed at Sandia National Laboratories in Washington, DC, researchers believe the glitter solar panels could be applied to our clothing and accessories.

The tiny cells could turn a person into a walking solar battery charger if they were fastened to flexible substrates molded around unusual shapes, such as clothing…

Sandia lead investigator Greg Nielson said the research team has identified more than 20 benefits of scale for its microphotovoltaic cells. These include new applications, improved performance, potential for reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

“Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing,” he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.

Although I am not sure I want solar panels in my clothing, no matter what the size, it is exciting to think of the versatile applications of this tiny sized PV cell.

Another exciting development regarding these glitter-sized solar cells is that they use “100 times less silicon” to generate the same amount of electricity as conventional cells.  Silicon shortages have long been a concern of the solar industry, but relief is in site.  The Christian Science Monitor explains:

Quartz, the raw material for solar panels, is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. But for years, the solar industry has faced a bottleneck in processing quartz into polysilicon, a principal material used in most solar panels. The problem stalled a steady decline in prices for solar panels.

Now the silicon shortage may be coming to an end, predict some solar analysts, thanks to new factories coming online.

If true, the price for solar panel modules could start falling by as much as a third by 2010, says Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development in Cambridge, Mass. That’s good news for an industry that remains one of the most expensive power sources.

Although this shortage has eased up in recent years, using less silicon to generate the same amount of energy is a positive move from a conservation viewpoint.  All that glitters may not be gold, but it may produce energy from the sun!

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