Thin, flexible "solar threads" to turn fabrics into power generators

A Tokyo-based venture called ideal Star [JP] has developed a new method that makes it possible to produce solar cells in the form of flexible and thin threads. The company is supported by a total of six Japanese universities and the government.

The current prototype cell is 5cm long and just 0.8mm in diameter. ideal Star says the core consists of polymer material and is surrounded by an electrode layer, and layers for hole transport, power-generating (this layer is made from fullerene), electron transport and another (transparent) electrode layer.

Once the company finds a way to make the threads longer, they could be woven into power-generating solar sheets or solar power fabrics for clothing or curtains. As a first practical application, sheets consisting of these threads will be used on rice paddies (while they are being rested) to generate solar power.

The solar threads feature an energy conversion efficiency of just around 3%, but ideal Star claims 10% are possible. The picture above shows amperage being measured from one of the threads that’s exposed to light.

ideal Star estimates mass-production of their products would be cheaper than that of standard silicon solar cells. For example, all layers in the threads are coated down, meaning production requires no expensive semiconductor manufacturing equipment. The company hopes to commercialize the technology within the next five years.

Via The Nikkei [registration required, paid subscription]