Solar Power-ing Our Smartphones And Tablets
Are you tired of your smartphone running out of battery every time you need it the most? Are you annoyed at having to constantly plug in your laptop, to ensure your battery doesn’t run out too fast? Well, according to an article on New York Times, it seems a Silicon Valley solar power company has the answer- solar cells. Alta Devices claims it has found a way to attach gallium arsenide solar cells, the highest efficiency solar cells, onto electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Although they don’t generate enough power to replace a device’s original battery, but if incorporated, these cells have the potential to increase battery life by upto 80%. Obviously, you would have to be stay outside to reap maximum benefit and battery life through these cells. But light provided by indoor fluorescent and incandescent lights also provide enough energy for these cells to increase battery life by 10 to 15%. That’s still quite a lot, considering most other solar materials are unable to capture any light energy in indoor conditions at all.
So why hadn’t anyone thought of this before, since gallium arsenide solar cells have been in use for so many years? (They are used heavily in space programs because of their excellent energy capturing efficiency). The answer lies in the fact that uptil now, gallium arsenide came in the form of hard, rigid, heavy and delicate fragments. Flexible and light weight solar cells that are in use today, on portable devices like the pocket calculator, use ‘thin film’ solar devices that are only able to capture a small amount of light energy. But Alta devices claims that it has discovered a way to make gallium arsenide solar cells with the properties of thin films, especially the flexibility and light weight.
Alta Devices has acknowledged that so far their biggest customer is the military, with soldiers using the cells to minimize the amount batteries needed to be taken into the field, and incorporating the technology into smartphones and tablets still has a some way to go. But the company has built a prototype cover for a Samsung Galaxy phone and has constructed designs of solar cells that could be used for other smartphones.
Alta Devices chief executive Christopher Norris says that “Incorporating the
film would be fairly easy, because much of the electronic hardware and the
software needed to connect the cell to the battery is already on the phone. A
smartphone would just need a patch of film, which is probably only about $3
worth of materials.” Wow, cheap!
Another potential market for these solar cells is cars. Although the surface area of a car is not enough for solar cells to power the entire car alone, however the company says that smaller functions like power steering or air-conditioning could be powered by solar cells placed on a car’s roof to lower the load on the internal engine and improve fuel mileage.