Wake Forest Granted Fiber Solar Cell Patent
Wake Forest University in North Carolina has been granted a patent fornewsolar-cell technology that it says can double the electricity outputcompared toflat solar cells on the market today.
The University received the patent for fiber-based solar cells from theEuropeanPatent Office and applications to the U.S. Patent Office are pending and thetechnology has been licensed to FiberCell Inc. to produce the firstlarge testcells. The new solar cells are constructed from millions of tiny plastic fibers thatoffer the ability to collect sunlight at oblique angles; even duringperiods ofthe day when the sun is rising and setting.
Where a traditional flat cell loses energy when the sun’s rays deflectfromits shiny surface, the fiber-based design creates more surface area andconfinesthe sun’s rays to allow for more absorption; around twice as manykilowatt hoursper day as standard flat cells.
The plastic fibers for the solar cells are assembled onto plasticsheets, usinga technology similar to that of creating the tops of soft-drink cups.Thepolymer or die absorber is simply sprayed on. Using plastic makes thecellslightweight and flexible. Whereas solarpanels are a bulky item to ship, these fiber solar cells could berolled upand shipped anywhere comparatively cheaply.
According to David Carroll, director of Wake Forest’s Center forNanotechnologyand Molecular Materials, builders would be able to integrate the cellsnearlyanywhere in a home’s design. Because fiber cells can collect light atvariousangles, they no longer have to stay on the roof to work
Mr. Carroll says the fiber solar cell could help bring clean power todevelopingcountries. The primary manufacturer would ship the lightweight, plasticfibercells and satellite plants in developing nations could spray them withphotovoltaicdye and prepare them for installation. He estimates it would cost aboutUSD $5million to set up a finishing plant; around USD $15 million less than it wouldcost to set up a similar plant for flat cells.
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