Iowa State University researcher, Vikram Dalal in his lab.

Iowa State University researcher, Vikram Dalal in his lab.


Breakthroughs in materials science and plasma chemistry could boost the output of thin, flexible solar cells by 50%, says Iowa State University researcher Vikram Dalal. Dalal is working with PowerFilm Inc., Ames, Iowa, a maker of the devices.

Flexible solar cells mount noncrystalline silicon wafers about 2 m thick onto flexible plastic and other materials. But the thin cells produce about half the power of cells made from thicker crystalline silicon. And performance drops by about another 15 to 20% over time.

"That's where we come in," Dalal says. Though details are proprietary, the work involves improving hydrogen bonding to the silicon. That can boost performance of the cells by about 35% and eliminate some 15% of the performance drop. Best of all, the new techniques should work with existing manufacturing processes and equipment.