American Institute of Physics

Computer in wrapping-paper form

Driven by rapid global industrialization, finite fossil fuel reserves, and the high cost of many alternative energy options, meeting the world's energy challenge may demand novel solutions. One potential solution has its roots in the ubiquitous industrial invention: the factory.

Investigators at Binghamton University, State University of New York's Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) -- the only center of its kind in the United States -- are giving factory production of solar energy cells a modern makeover. Their approach includes the use of "continuous electronic sheets," something like a computer flattened into wrapping paper to perform its many functions. They describe their new approach in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, which is published by the American Institute of Physics.

Explains lead researcher Howard Wang, "The goal is to apply the next generation of manufacturing to addressing the energy challenge in the way solar cells are produced. We think nanoscale engineering is the key to this new low-cost opportunity for enhancing the solar energy landscape."

Doing this includes: the use of large-scale, flexible format; roll-to-roll manufacturing, a process resembling the printing process of newspapers; and the use of continuous electronic sheets.

To reach this goal, the Wang team devised a promising hybrid material that has high structural quality but is compatible with the roll-to-roll processing technique.

"By driving the cost of production down and maintaining quality with the hybrid," says Wang, "we can create a product that can be competitive with silicon-based products."