U.S. Department of Energy

    Solar Power Researchers Pursuing New, Innovative Materials

    March 9, 2005

    The latest wave of research in solar photovoltaic cells aims to boost their efficiency while incorporating them into flexible plastics, lightweight foils, and even textiles. Konarka Technologies, Inc. announced in mid-February that it will work with a leading Swiss university to develop photovoltaic fabrics that will allow tents, shirts, hats—you name it—to generate power. Konarka is already known for its flexible plastic solar material (the company calls it "light-activated power plastic") and was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve its performance. See the February 16th and March 2nd press releases from Konarka.

    While Konarka's power plastic is intended for down-to-earth uses, DayStar Technologies, Inc. is producing a high-efficiency flexible solar material better suited for high-altitude aircraft or space vehicles. DayStar's new "LightFoil" consists of a high-efficiency copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film solar cell deposited onto a thin, lightweight titanium foil. With the ability to convert 15.2 percent of the sunlight that hits it into electricity, the LightFoil has produced 1,440 Watts of power per kilogram of material in laboratory tests. According to DayStar, that's a record production of solar power per weight, about 50 percent better than today's thin-film devices. The material is also flexible and can be cut to shape, making it ideal for covering surfaces of aircraft or space vehicles. DayStar is currently developing a manufacturing process for the material, with a commercial goal of producing at least 1,000 Watts per kilogram of material. The company expects to have engineering samples available by early this summer. See the DayStar Technologies press release.