MIT researchers have developed a layer-by-layer manufacturing process to create solar cells as thin as paper. These cells can be grown at low temperatures on ordinary tracing paper and could be placed on rooftops, spread over laptops or be crafted into window blinds. One major drawback is the poor efficiency, currently these ultra-thin solar cells achieve an efficiency of only 1 percent, but the scientists hope to improve this to four percent. The technology could be made available to the public within the next five years.
According to Karen Gleason, MIT chemical engineering professor and lead researcher on the project, five layers of solid material deposited onto a paper substrate goes into the process of making a cell with each layer serving a separate function.
One layer could contain the active material that releases an electron when it's struck by light and another layer could contain the circuit that carries the current.
"We have an apparatus which allows us to bring together molecular and atomic species. They basically condense, sometimes they react. We repeat that five times and you up with a solar cell," she said.