Vladimir Bulovic of MIT Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory spoke on this unique technology, with some compelling, thought-provoking ideas. First he asked the audience to consider the trade-off between manufacturing traditional wafer technology with its complex fabrication processes, albeit using a relatively simple material (silicon), versus nano materials that by contrast are rather complex, but can use a simple thin film (roll to roll) process method with relatively few steps. In short -- a complex process with many steps to manufacturing using a simple material vs. a complex material using relatively few steps in manufacturing.
It’s the latter that Bulvoic likes, and he showed the group the potential of this thought shift that looks to offer dramatic production cost reductions by limiting the number of complex steps. Bulvoic said fewer than six synthetic manufacturing steps would achieve significant gains in cost efficiencies.
To make the point, he showed an application of this low-cost manufacturing of a complex nano material by creating solar cells on paper. They created vapor printed organic electrodes from nano materials applied to newspaper, with the result of an ITO-free flexible solar cell made of layers and substrate that were completely flexible. The photo voltaic device was made by simply coating films on a piece of paper from an organic polymer layer coated with two additional layers of organic dyes, he said.
These low-cost solar cells on paper have limitless applications, with some examples that included secure documents, packaging, ads and entertainment, and more. The discussion then shifted to making a solar cell invisible with the idea of placing the material on an e-book reader that would never need conventional recharging again. The possibilities can easily be extended to wearable devices that gain huge benefits from such functionality. -- Steve Sechrist