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New Solar Panel Design Could Charge Your Phone With Ambient Light

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Battery technology is still advancing at a sluggish rate in spite of intense research. The amount of energy you can carry around continues to limit what our mobile devices can do, and current methods of charging can only take us so far. A French solar power startup with the counterintuitive name of Dracula Technologies says it has developed a new type of solar panel that could be integrated into almost any device thanks to its thin, flexible design. It could be part of your backpack, your shirt, or even your phone.

Most solar panels are based on a silicon substrate. However, they’re bulky and not very flexible. The most reliable and commercially viable solar panels are like this, which limits their usefulness on anything but a building. They also aren’t efficient enough to pick up much energy without direct intense sunlight. That’s why all those solar power batteries need to be left in direct sunlight for the better part of a day to recharge.

Dracula Technologies says its newly designed panels won’t have those limitations. The so-called LAYER design (Light As Your Energetic Response) is flexible and light enough to be integrated into almost anything. The panels can also be custom printed using an inkjet-style contraption. A company could even have LAYER panels produced in the shape of its logo.

LAYER panels are composed of a conductive plastic substrate that can capture energy from indirect light, and they’ll even work indoors. The cells only take about an hour to print. In addition to custom shapes, Dracula Technology can apply different colors to the cells. They can even be transparent if that’s what works best for a given application.

These are key differentiators between LAYER and traditional solar panels, but the company hasn’t made any specific promises about how much energy you’ll get out of these panels. The ability to integrate these flexible solar cells anyplace could make up for that. If you can have them integrated into your backpack to continuously trickle charge devices, it might not matter that it’s slower than plugging in a cable.

You can’t buy anything with a Dracula Technologies flexible solar panel yet, but the company thinks it’s within striking distance of commercial viability. It says a solar panel capable of charging a phone is only a few months away. Then it’s just up to someone to integrate the LAYER solar panels in a shirt, bag, or maybe even your next phone.

Now read: How do solar cells work?

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