Engineers at MIT are tinkering with all sorts of advanced solar power technology, like self-assembling solar cells, virus-structured cells and an artificial leaf system that mimics photosynthesis. Their latest project is somewhat more simple: It can be printed on a regular sheet of paper.
The cell is tough enough to work even after being folded into a paper airplane — unlike many "flexible" cells, it's not merely bendable, but foldable as well. It’s made using a relatively simple vapor deposition process, rather than the typical high-temperature etching process used to make solar cells.Like the silver ballpoint pen we saw earlier this month, the system uses a 3-D printing technique to deposit materials onto a surface. The process is a little more complex than using a printer, however, because it requires five layers of material and a stencil to form the patterns of the cells. It also has to be done in a vacuum chamber, so it’s probably not doable for the average DIY-er.
But as MIT News points out, the vapor deposition process is widely used throughout various industries — it’s similar to the process used to make the silver lining in bags of potato chips — so it can be done on a large scale at low cost.