Peel and stick solar cells?

The thin-film technology could by affixed to military helmets or onto mobile phones, in order to charge gadgets on the go.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Stanford University are teaming up on research into peel-and-stick versions of solar cells that could be used to charge up mobile phones or operate small toys and other electronic gadgets. Or, of course, to help soldiers and military personnel in the field as an alternative power supply for communications devices.

The researchers are working with thin-film solar technology that is less than one-micro thick. The cells can be removed from the silicon substrate used for fabrication by dipping them into room-temperature water, reported NREL and Stanford. After being exposed to heat of about 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few seconds, they can be attached to other surfaces.

It's kind of like a bumper sticker that you might attach to a car.

The solar cells being used for the experiment were fabricated on nickel-coated Si/SiO2 wafers. The result is "flexible, lightweight, and transparent devices" that could be affixed to military helmets, portable electronics, or sensors, according to the researchers.

"We were able to peel it off nicely and test the cell both before and after," said Qi Wang, principal scientist from NREL. "We found almost no degradation in performance due to the peel-off."

The potential for silicon to be used in formats other than the traditional panels we are growing used to seeing on rooftops or in unused files is growing. Dow Solar, for example, is already using solar technology in a line of roofing shingles. It recently expanded the distribution for the technology to the US East Coast after pilots in Colorado, California, and Texas.

Experiments with other building-integrated photovoltaics are also picking up momentum, although today it remains very much a niche market.