These Cutting-Edge Solar Panels Roll Up Like Wrapping Paper

Get ready for tough, foldable paper-like solar panels covered in "solar glitter."

This solar panel certainly doesn't look like one at all. Instead of the classic rigid panel, the flexible solar material created by Albuquerque-based mPower Technology Inc. seems like a cross between metallic wrapping paper and one of those reflective sun shades for car windshields.

The clever mesh design means this solar panel is lightweight, foldable and highly efficient. Microsystems-enabled photovoltaics technology has actually been in development for several years, but it took a big step forward recently, when mPower Technology signed a licensing agreement with Sandia National Laboratories.

Called Dragon SCALES, mPower Technology's product is actually covered in miniature solar cells known as "solar glitter." The SCALES part stands for semi-conductor active layer embedded solar, FastCo.Exist reported. If one cell stops working or becomes shaded, the rest of the cells continue working.

"The key limitation to silicon is that if you bend and flex it, it will crack and shatter," mPower Technology's founder and CEO Murat Okandan said in a press statement. "Our technology makes it virtually unbreakable while keeping all the benefits of high efficiency, high reliability silicon PV."

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Okandan envisions the company's tough and bendy solar panels going into satellites and drones as well as biomedical devices and consumer products. Imagine unfurling sheets on rooftops to install photovoltaics in record time or stuffing a roll in your backpack. Hey, is that a yoga mat? Nope, it's my portable solar.

I really thought that with all the technological advancements happening in the last decade-plus, we'd be able to buy rolls of photovoltaics at the hardware store by now. Blending flexibility with efficiency has been an enormous challenge, though. Okandan and his team had to get the microdesign and microfabrication techniques just right.

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Prior to starting mPower Technology in 2015, Okandan worked on microsystems-enabled photovoltaics for Sandia as an employee. He launched the company through Sandia's Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology program, which supports spinoffs.

The new license between mPower Technology and Sandia is expected to help speed up the commercialization of solar glitter. I'm eager to see how it goes, not least because we could use more glitter in general.

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