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MIT’s superthin solar cells convert any surface into a power source

Alternative power source from MIT


MIT engineers – comprising Vladimir Bulović, Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, and Jeremiah Mwaura – have developed ultralight and thinner-than-hair fabric solar cells that transform any surface into a power generator within seconds of plastering them. The durable and flexible solar cells are pasted to a super-light fabric, making them easy to place on a surface.


The time when people can pocket power sources without being burdened by their weight has gained traction. With MIT engineers’ recent portable solar cells, charging up what needs to be powered is a breeze. The engineers have tested the limits of a conventional solar panel by bending and twisting their sim-card cells without wrecking them. Thanks to lamination, it is nearly impossible to rip MIT’s solar cells in half (unless someone cuts them with a sharp tool).


The lamination makes it easy to append these solar cells onto many surfaces. The engineers even suggest that people can bring the superthin solar cells on a boat to power it up as they journey to the sea. For camping, adhering these solar cells onto tents and tarps is an ideal solution for disaster recovery operations. The engineers claim that applying their invention to the wings of drones can extend the robots’ flying range. 

superthin solar cells mit
images courtesy of MIT, the researchers, and Melanie Gonick



Ideal for rescue operations


The superthin solar cells juice up the way people find alternative power sources. The MIT engineers behind the creation guarantee that installing their solar cells require little to no assistance. These portable solar powers can provide energy on the go as a wearable power fabric or be transported and rapidly deployed in remote locations for assistance in emergencies.


They are one-hundredth the weight of conventional solar panels, generate 18 times more power per kilogram – 730 watts of power per kilogram when freestanding – and are made from semiconducting inks using printing processes that can be scaled in the future to large-area manufacturing.

superthin solar cells mit
testing the solar cells



Jeremiah Mwaura, a research scientist at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics and one of the study’s researchers, says that encasing these solar cells in heavy glass, which is standard with traditional silicon solar cells, would make it difficult for their device to let the power out, so the team is currently developing ultrathin packaging solutions that would only slightly increase the weight of the current ultralight devices.


‘We are working to remove as much of the non-solar-active material as possible while still retaining the form factor and performance of these ultralight and flexible solar structures. For example, we know the manufacturing process can be further streamlined by printing the releasable substrates, equivalent to the process we use to fabricate the other layers in our device. This would accelerate the translation of this technology to the market,’ the researcher says.

superthin solar cells mit
they are thinner than human hair


MIT superthin solar cells


project info:


name: Paper-thin solar cells

institution: MIT

engineers: Vladimir Bulović, Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, and Jeremiah Mwaura

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