By Evan Ackerman
We mentioned Sphelar spherical solar cells as a component of the AimuletLA last October. WorldChanging was able to get an interview with one of the Sphelar engineers, who provided plenty of details about the technology. The big conceptual leap behind Sphelar cells is that they’re spheres, as opposed to most other solar panels which are, well, flat and panel-y. Panels work best when they’re pointed at the sun, which means that they’re either not producing peak voltages for most of the day, or they need to be hooked up to timers and motors which suck up some of the electricity that they produce. Sphelar cells, on the other hand, can produce electricity from any incoming light, including light that’s already bounced off other surfaces, giving them an efficiency rating of up around 20%, easily on par with high end traditional solar cells.
The little 1mm spheres are created in microgravity by spritzing melted silicon into a vacuum, where surface tension pulls the silicon into a spherical shape as it falls over a distance of 14 meters. It’s a cheap and efficient process resulting in cells that can be built into both rigid and flexible surfaces. Sphelar’s designers say that they’re currently looking at power for small consumer electronics, but one of the most interesting aspects of the technology is the built-in light emitters, allowing Sphelar devices to talk to each other (which is how the AimuletLA works). It’s all very promising, and it’s inspiring to see such advanced tech already in use.