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A new wire twist on silicon solar cells

U.S. researchers have devised a way to make flexible solar cells with silicon wires that use just 1 percent of the material needed to make conventional solar cells.

The eventual hope is to make thin, light solar cells that could be incorporated into clothing, for instance but the immediate benefit is cheaper and easier-to-install solar panels, the researchers said.

The new material, reported on Sunday in Nature Materials, uses conventional silicon configured into micron-sized wires (a micron is one-millionth of a meter) instead of brittle wafers and encases them in a flexible polymer that can be rolled or bent.

"The idea is it would be lower-cost and easier to work with by being more flexible than conventional silicon solar cells," Michael Kelzenberg of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.

Solar cells, which convert solar energy into electricity, are in high demand because of higher oil prices and concerns over climate change.

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