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Miles Barr: Printing Solar Cells on Paper and Clothes

Drawing the Curtains to Let in the Sun
Miles Barr: Printing Solar Cells on Paper and Clothes
Photograph by Corey Hendrickson for Bloomberg Businessweek

Forget about putting solar panels on the roof. Miles Barr wants to make curtains, cell-phone cases, and even shirtsleeves that generate electricity from the sun.

Barr, who earned a chemical engineering Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an expert in chemical vapor deposition. That’s a process in which two vapors are piped into a sealed chamber, where they react, creating a thin, solid film around an object inside. The technique isn’t new; it’s been used to add a waterproof layer to fabric, for example. Barr successfully adapted the technology to “print” an electrically active solar cell coating onto ordinary materials, starting with a sheet of paper in 2010. “When we first did that, it really sparked a lot of imagination,” says Barr, 28. “If you can put a solar cell on paper, what else can you put it on?”