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Paper-thin solar cells (photos)

MIT researchers are developing solar cells coated onto paper, as well as specially treated paper that can remove spilled oil from water.

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Martin LaMonica
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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Generating juice on paper

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--MIT and Italian oil company Eni today presented early results of Eni-funded research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where researchers are working on making solar power cheaper and techniques to clean up from oil spills.

Pictured here is MIT chemical engineering professor Karen Gleason, who is showing how solar cells printed on paper can generate enough current to light an LED display. Researchers hope in the coming years to improve the efficiency of the cells, which is now under one percent.

See related story, MIT's paper chase: Cheap solar cells.

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Bendable cell

Here MIT's Gleason shows how a solar cell deposited on paper can be put into a flexible laminate. The cells could be used for indoor applications, such as having a power-generating curtain or blind. A lightweight and flexible material such as this laminated cell would make it easier to install solar roofing materials, which can bring down the cost of solar power.

See related story, MIT's paper chase: Cheap solar cells.

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Solar airplane

This paper airplane has a solar cell embedded onto the surface of the paper. The MIT-developed technique uses five layers of solid material deposited onto paper. The manufacturing process can be adjusted for different coatings and be used on different substrates other than paper.

See related story, MIT's paper chase: Cheap solar cells.

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4 of 5 Martin LaMonica/CNET

Laminated solar cell

The underside of the paper solar cells shows the layer of material that act as circuits to carry current. The solar cell paper operates at 20 volts, which means it could be used for many applications, said MIT's Gleason. Several pieces of paper could be wired in a series or parallel and be integrated with storage or an LED, for example.

See related story, MIT's paper chase: Cheap solar cells.

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Hydrophobic nanomaterial

In another area of Eni-funded research, MIT researchers are developing a paper-based material that can absorb oil when spilled in water. The process is to treat paper with a nanomaterial that attracts oil but does not absorb water. The research is in the early stage, but MIT said that in less a decade it could be integrated into buoys that would collect spilled oil in the ocean.

See related story, MIT's paper chase: Cheap solar cells.

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