Next-generation materials for solar cells are cheap, flexible, and transparent, attributes that give them potential for creating films to coat windows or buildings. Although these films are highly efficient at converting sunlight into electrical power at small scales in the lab, defects that accumulate at large scales prevent them from being used for practical power generation.
To surmount this challenge, Susanna Thon, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and colleagues developed miniature solar concentrators—essentially tiny lenses that focus sunlight onto these films.
Using 3-D printing, the researchers crafted the concentrators out of a flexible and transparent polymer called polydimethylsiloxane. Adhering this material to solar cell films increased the amount of power they produced by twentyfold. Thon and her colleagues have filed provisional patents on this technology and have started exploring options to partner with energy companies to license it.