MIT Student’s Vision Of Solar Panels As Thin As Yoga Mats, Earns $100,000 Award
Active Surfaces founders, including Shiva Bhakta (on right) and Richard Swartout, (second from left) with summer interns from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Photo: MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition
India-West News Desk
CAMBRIDGE, MA – Solar power has long been hailed as a cornerstone of global decarbonization efforts but its widespread adoption has been hindered by the limitations of traditional solar panels which are heavy and expensive. Shiv Bhakta and Richard Swartout, graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with their company Active Surfaces, are trying to change this.
Their ideas for portable ultra-thin solar panels recently won them the prestigious MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.
The innovation lies in their ability to create flexible solar panels that are not only incredibly thin but also boast efficiency on par with traditional solar panels. It paves the way for unprecedented cost reductions, making solar energy deployment accessible across diverse environments and settings.
“Our approach is to develop solar technology for the built environment,” Bhakta explained to MIT News. “In a nutshell, we can create flexible solar panels that are as thin as paper, just as efficient as traditional panels, and at unprecedented cost floors, all while being applied to any surface. Same area, and the same power. That’s our motto.”
The technology’s potential impact is vast. The ultra-thin film solar panels could be rolled up for easy transportation, carried to rooftops, and swiftly unfurled across the surface, dramatically cutting installation costs and expanding the range of locations suitable for rooftop solar setups.
Shiv Bhakta, a dual-degree student at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, highlighted the ambitious roadmap ahead to MIT News. “In the next year, through those open-access facilities, the goal is to go from 100-millimeter width to 300-millimeter width and a very long length using a roll-to-roll manufacturing process,” he said. This entails overcoming engineering challenges to scale the technology and fine-tune its performance.
Bhakta emphasized that their vision extends beyond innovation to tangible application. “When we’re ready to deliver a pilotable product, it’s my job to have customers lined up ready to demonstrate this works on their buildings, sign longer-term contracts to get early revenue, and have the support we need to demonstrate this at scale. That’s the goal.”
For Bhakta, this journey started with a noble purpose. “When I came to MIT, my north star was to dive deeper into my climate journey and help make the world a better, greener place,” he shared. “Now, as we build Active Surfaces, I’m excited to see that dream taking shape.”