Will Tomorrow’s Tablet Computers Feature Super-Thin Solar Panels?

Written By: Thatcher Michelsen March 5, 2013 0
Researchers are working on ways to install super-thin solar panels on tablet computers.
Researchers are working on ways to install super-thin solar panels on tablet computers.

Research being conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and abroad suggests that, if the designers are successful, tablet computers will one day feature translucent solar panels capable of absorbing ambient light and generating small amounts of electricity.

According to the MIT Review, a graduate project-turned-startup named Ubiquitous Energy is making a serious play at this yet-untapped market, which some say could be extremely lucrative owing to the relatively short battery lives that many tablets in use today currently provide. Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford University, told the source that tablet-based solar systems are "an interesting approach," but cautioned that cost and durability might scuttle any serious attempts to create pint-sized renewable energy networks.

This doesn't seem to be impeding Miles Barr, the chief technology officer and president of Ubiquitous. In an interview, he said that improvements in solar panel efficiency were opening up avenues for novel uses of this useful technology. 

"We're getting a catalog of device structures and ingredients for higher-efficiency devices that can power more power-hungry devices or offset energy for buildings," Barr stated. "Once you hit 10 percent efficiency, a lot of applications open up."

Part of the problem, he added, is that the nature of the panels have to match the surface they are attached to. For example, in order to create a panel fitted to a window or touch screen, manufacturers would need to be able to make conductors with the right kind of transparency. However, he suggested that Ubiquitous was tackling this project head-on and hoped to have a solution within the next few years.

While it might be some time before we see an iPad that recharges itself, these developments are encouraging because it shows clean energy being utilized in almost every facet of our lives. You can follow these and other topics by keeping with the LifeIsGreen.com blog.

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