Emerging wireless and flexible electronic systems such as wearable devices and sensor networks call for a power source that is sustainable, reliable, has high power density, and can be integrated into a flexible package at low cost. These demands can be met using photovoltaic systems, consisting of solar modules for energy harvesting, battery storage to overcome variations in solar module output or load, and often power electronics to regulate voltages and power flows. A great deal of research in recent years has focused on the development of high-performing materials and architectures for individual components such as solar cells and batteries. However, there remains a need for co-design and integration of these components in order to achieve complete power systems optimized for specific applications. To fabricate these systems, printing techniques are of great interest as they can be performed at low temperatures and high speeds and facilitate customization of the components.
This thesis discusses the development of printed and flexible photovoltaic power systems, spanning both device-level and system-level design. Photovoltaic cells and multi-cell modules are designed and manufactured using solution-processed organic materials. The use of carbon nanotube films as a flexible, low-cost, solution-processed transparent electrode for photovoltaics is investigated. Then, photovoltaic modules are integrated with batteries into energy harvesting and storage systems with multiple power levels and form factors, optimized to deliver power to loads such as wearable medical sensors. The energy collecting potentials of these systems are evaluated under indoor and outdoor lighting conditions. Designing the solar module maximum power point to match the battery voltage, as well as optimizing load characteristics such as duty cycle, are shown to enable power systems with long-term wireless operation and high efficiency. Finally, screen-printed passive components are developed and demonstrated in a hybrid flexible voltage regulator circuit. In particular, high-quality printed spiral inductors satisfactory for power electronics applications are achieved through optimization of the geometry and fabrication. Overall, the high-performance devices and integrated system designs demonstrated here have the potential for significant impact in the areas of flexible, portable and large-area electronics.
Printed and Flexible Systems for Solar Energy Harvesting
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