Eco-friendly, Green, Science, Sustainability

Researchers Test Wood Fibers for Solar Cell Use

Paper is more eco-friendly than plastic… but where will the paper come from?
Image: Shutterstock

There’s no question about it: solar and wind power technologies are growing in popularity, getting cheaper, and becoming more efficient and affordable with each passing day. In the quest for green energy, we’ve come a long way—though there is still a way to go.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, the South China University of Technology, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have started down the long and winding path of making green technologies even greener. Solar technology relies on solar cells, which are unfortunately currently made of a wide array of materials—including plastics and rare metals. Though the energy they produce is green, they in themselves may not be completely so.

But the latest advancements from the researchers shows significant progress in developing solar cell made from a new wood-fiber based paper. If efficient solar cells can successfully be made from the paper, they would be far more environmentally friendly than our man-made plastics. So far, the paper can be made up to 96% transparent, and the researchers believe that eventually it “could ultimately replace the plastic substrates that solar cells are made on,” according to

The “ultrahigh” transparency of the paper allows for more light to be transmitted. Researchers say the optimal combination includes high transparency, along with a high optical haze to allow for more light scatter and absorption. Most ultrahigh transparency materials have a low optical haze—less than 20%—but the new paper has so far achieved an optical haze of 60%.

The main question I am left with is, if we eventually move to making solar cells from this wood fiber-based paper, where will that wood fiber come from? Hopefully, the use of solar technology will expand rapidly as the technologies become more efficient and affordable—but if they are being made from trees, developers will need to come up with a sustainable method for attaining the wood fibers.


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