Researchers at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana are patting themselves on the back for coming up with a new printing-like process to put ultra-thin solar panels in flexible plastic or fabric. The solar panels can be printed at 1/10th the size of a human hair, yet yielding strength and flexibility.
In fact, the solar cells can be rolled up, thrown into the back of a truck if desired and rolled out on location such as to put on windows or as part of the laminate structure on buildings that will also supply power. While most solar panels are large, rigid and fragile structures, the thin-film solar from U of I offers much commercial potential in its flexibility.
For instance, solar cells may be printed on canvas for tents or backpacks. Solar cells may be used on the sunroof of cars or perhaps even integrated into the paint job itself. Windows of homes and offices can have solar cells upon them generating power. Perhaps even one day clothing will have the solar cells printed on them for people to use to power iPods and other small electronic accessories (probably dry cleaning only).
Because of the thinness of these photovoltaic cells, they use far less silicon that conventional panels, so this drives down the price considerably. Solar hats and umbrellas anyone? How about solar panels atop long-haul trucks and bending around odd-shaped architecture. The flexibility of these solar cells will provide many creative possibilities.