Solar panels can be installed in homes and businesses, but building materials like plywood, corrugated metal and plastic are becoming increasingly important for the grid.
But they are increasingly difficult to procure and use.
Now, a team at MIT has developed a way to create solar panels that can be made in a matter of weeks using the materials and processes they already know and love.
In a paper published this week in the journal Nature Photonics, the team shows that a thin film of polyethylene, or PEEK, can be fabricated from just a few ingredients and is robust enough to be used in photovolelectric materials.
They have demonstrated that PEEK can be used to build PV panels in minutes, but that it is also suitable for many other applications, including making thin films of aluminum and silicon for use in solar cells.
“We think the main limitation is the size of the polyethylenimine film,” says Andrew Zilber, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and the paper’s senior author.
“We’ve found a way around that by adding more PEEK.
The more PEE, the more PKE.”
PEEK is a lightweight, flexible polymer that can hold a variety of electrical properties, including electrical conductivity and conductivity with light, which allows it to conduct electricity as it passes through air, a feature that makes it ideal for applications like solar cells, or panels that use sunlight to charge the battery.
PEEK also has a good electrical conductance.
PEEs electrical conductors have a higher conductivity than those of aluminum or silicon, and they can be applied directly to the film to increase its conductivity, which in turn improves the efficiency of solar cells that use it.
“If we can improve on the materials we already have, it will allow us to create more flexible solar panels,” Zilbers co-author and assistant professor of mechanical engineering Paul Rennison says.
The new material could be used for solar cells because of its ability to absorb light and convert it into electricity.
PPE can also be used as a semiconductor because of the fact that it has a specific electrical conductive charge.
PEEE has been used in solar panels for decades, but only recently have researchers found that it can also perform well in materials like glass, a material that is typically used in thin films.
The research also shows that PPE is also ideal for solar modules because it can be bonded to the PV material using an adhesive that can easily be applied to the polyester film.
“PEEK is flexible, it is biocompatible and it is very strong,” Ziliber says.
“It is the perfect material for PV modules.”
Building a PEE PV module The PEE film is a flexible polymer made from a single layer of PEEK sandwiched between two layers of aluminum oxide and a layer of aluminum hydroxide, or aluminum hydrogel.
Zilberman’s team has developed an adhesive system to glue the PEEK film onto the aluminum hydrometalloy.
The adhesive acts as a shock absorber, which helps keep the polymeric film from splitting apart during manufacturing.
The team also developed a method for adding the PEE films to a PV cell.
The PEEK films can then be deposited onto the silicon photovolcanics and used to charge a battery.
ZILBER’S TAKE The new technology has several important applications for solar power.
One, the material is very inexpensive and can be manufactured in less than 10 days.
Another, the system can be scaled up to make solar panels with much higher efficiency than the ones that are currently being used.
The MIT team is also working on other applications for PEE. “
So this is a very practical way to make this material scalable and inexpensive.”
The MIT team is also working on other applications for PEE.
For example, they are developing solar cells using the new materials that can store energy over time, like storing excess energy during storms.
Ziliberman’s group is working with companies like SunPower to develop solar cell modules that can use PEE for storage of energy during solar storms.
“The next step is to see if we can scale this to use in batteries and solar cells for other applications,” he says.