Solar panels are typically made with materials that have unique properties related to the conversion of light into electricity. These materials, known as semiconductors, include silicon, perovskite, gallium arsenide, and others.
A solar cell works by using the photovoltaic effect, where light (photons) hitting a semiconductor material can knock loose electrons, thereby creating an electric current.
Aluminum, however, is a metal, not a semiconductor, and it doesn’t have the right kind of band structure to create a photovoltaic effect.
That said, aluminum foil can reflect light and it’s a good conductor of electricity, so it could potentially be used as part of a solar thermal system (which uses the sun’s heat, rather than its light) or as part of the wiring or reflectors in a photovoltaic system. But it cannot be used to actually generate electricity from sunlight by itself.
However, in this article, I’ll explain two different methods to create a solar device using aluminum foils.
- As a Solar concentrator (cooker) based energy generator
- As an electrode in a blackberry based thin film solar cell.
In these tutorials, I have added instructional graphics and related images for better understanding.
Creating a solar panel using aluminum foil isn’t feasible for electricity generation. While aluminum foil reflects light, it doesn’t possess the properties to convert sunlight into electricity like silicon-based photovoltaic cells in traditional solar panels. However, aluminum foil can be used in DIY projects like solar ovens to harness solar energy for heating.
1. How to make a Solar Cell using Aluminum Foil as a Heat Energy Concentrator?
To create a solar cell using aluminum foil as a heat energy concentrator, you’ll need the following materials:
- Aluminum Foil
- Peltier plate
- Heat sink
- Basic water cooling system ( a sealed water bag).
Here is a step-by-step guide to creating this type of solar cell:
Step 1: Prepare the Solar Concentrator
Cut the cardboard into a concave shape, the size of which will depend on the amount of sunlight you want to concentrate. Then, cover the concave side of the cardboard with aluminum foil, securing it with glue. The foil will serve as the concentrator, reflecting sunlight towards a focal point.
The below graphic shows the steps to Prepare the Solar Concentrator
Step 2: Mount the Peltier Plate
Attach the Peltier plate to the focal point of the concentrator, with the side that you want to heat facing the foil. Attach a heat sink to the other side of the Peltier plate. This will help to maximize heat absorption.
The below graphic shows the step to mount the Peltier plate to the solar concentrator.
Step 3: Attach the Cooling System
On the other side of the Peltier plate, attach a basic water cooling system. You can glue a water-filled bag. This will help to maintain a temperature difference across the plate, which is essential for the generation of electricity.
The below graphic shows the finished setup of the cooling system.
Step 4: Connect the Multimeter
Finally, connect the Peltier plate to an electrical circuit through a multimeter. The heat difference across the plate will cause electrons to move, generating an electric current.
Below graphic diagram shows how to connect the multimeter to the developed solar concentrator-based solar cell with the help of Aluminium Foil.
While this method can be a fun and educational DIY project, it’s important to note that the amount of electricity generated will be relatively small. It is also crucial to handle all materials with care to avoid injury, and to ensure that the Peltier plate does not overheat.
Pros and Cons
|Simple and fun DIY project
|Produces relatively small amounts of electricity
|Can be made with commonly available materials
|Requires careful handling to avoid injury
2. How to make a Solar Cell using Aluminum Foil as a Cell Electrode?
Creating a solar cell using aluminum foil as an electrode involves the following materials:
- Black Blueberry Juice: This can be obtained by crushing fresh blackberries and straining the juice. The darker the juice, the better, as it contains more anthocyanins which are the light-absorbing molecules we need.
- Titanium Dioxide (TiO2): This can be found in white paint or sunscreen. Make sure to check the ingredients.
- Aluminum Foil: Commonly found in the kitchen.
- Crocodile Clips: Can be found in electronic stores or online.
- Wires: Can be found in electronic stores or online.
- Glue: Any non-conductive adhesive will work.
- Glass Slides: These can be found online or at a local hobby store.
- Conductive Glass (FTO or ITO Glass): This can be found online or at a local hobby store.
- Candle: A normal household candle.
- Iodine Solution: This can be found in a first aid kit or at a pharmacy.
- Multimeter: To measure the voltage and current produced by your solar cell.
Here is the process:
Step 1: Prepare the Materials
Start by gathering all the necessary materials. These include black blackberry juice, Titanium Dioxide (TiO2), aluminum foil, crocodile clips, wires, glue, glass slides, conductive glass, iodine solution, and a multimeter.
Below graphic shows the needed materials collection to build a solar cell using aluminum foil.
Step 2: Prepare the Blackberry Juice
Crush fresh blackberries and strain the juice. The darker the juice, the better, as it contains more anthocyanins which are the light-absorbing molecules we need.
The following graphic shows how to crush and collect blackberry juice.
Step 3: Apply TiO2 on Conductive Glass
Clean the conductive glass thoroughly. Apply a thin layer of TiO2 paste onto the conductive side of the glass using a paintbrush. Allow it to dry and then heat (50 Celsius for 8 minutes) the TiO2 coated glass on a hot plate to ensure the TiO2 is properly adhered to the glass.
The following graphic explains the steps you need to follow for applying the TiO2 on the FTO or ITO plate (conductive)
Step 4: Soak the TiO2 Coated Glass in Blackberry Juice
Soak the TiO2 coated glass in the black blackberry juice. The anthocyanins in the juice will bind to the TiO2. Leave it for a few hours to ensure a good coating, then rinse the glass gently to remove any unattached anthocyanins.
Here you can see how to soak the TiO2 coated conductive glass in the blackberry juice
Step 5: Prepare the Other Electrode
Take another piece of glass and apply Aluminum foil paper on it using glue. wait till it dries. This will act as the other electrode of your solar cell.
Now handle the Aluminium foil side down, above a candle flame until it is coated black. The slide should be held directly in the candle flame to deposit soot on the entire surface.
This graphic shows the steps you need to follow in order to deposit the soot on Aluminium foil.
Step 6: Apply Iodine Solution
Place a few drops of iodine solution on the soot-coated glass. This will act as an electrolyte.
You can refer to the below graphic to understand the steps involved with adding the electrolyte to the Aluminium electrode (back electrode).
Step 7: Assemble the Solar Cell
Sandwich the two pieces of glass together, with the TiO2 and candle sides facing each other. Make sure the two pieces of glass do not touch each other. You can use binder clips to hold them together.
This graphic shows the steps to attach the electrodes of the solar cell together.
Step 8: Connect the Solar Cell
Connect the crocodile clips to the two overhanging edges and the other end of the wires to a multimeter.
You can attach the crocodile clips and multimeter as shown in the below graphic
Step 9: Test the Solar
Cell Place the cell in sunlight and measure the voltage and current using the multimeter.
Finally, you can test your solar cell as shown in the below figure.
Operation mechanism of the Solar Cell using Aluminum Foil as a Cell Electrode
The anthocyanins in the blackberry juice absorb sunlight and excite electrons, which are then transferred to the TiO2. The excited electrons move through the external circuit (doing work, like lighting a bulb) and return to the cell on the carbon(soot) side. The iodine solution acts as an electrolyte, allowing the flow of electrons back to the anthocyanins, completing the circuit.
You can check a real-world solar cell similar to above-mentioned setup in the below image.
It’s important to note that this type of solar cell will produce a very small amount of electricity, and it is not practical for powering electrical devices. It should be considered more as an educational experiment rather than a practical energy solution.
Points of Attention:
- Ensure the TiO2 is thoroughly dried and adhered to the glass.
- The anthocyanins must be allowed to soak into the TiO2 for a few hours for a good coating.
- Be careful not to let the two pieces of conductive glass and foil touch each other when sandwiched together.
Pros and Cons
|Great educational experiment
|Produces very little electricity
|Demonstrates the principles of solar power
|Not practical for powering devices
while aluminum foil on its own cannot be used to create a solar panel, it can be used in creative ways to demonstrate the principles of solar power. Whether you’re using it as a heat concentrator or as an electrode in a blueberry-based solar cell, these DIY projects can be a great way to learn more about renewable energy.
Eng. Matthew Joseph Nandirio is the Founder of walkingsolar.
After graduating from the University of Houston in 2002, matt started working as a Solar Electrical Engineer for several multi-national solar energy companies.
He has a wide range of experiences including solar system requirement analysis, planning, maintaining, debugging and even solar device development through research.
He now shares his 20 years of expertise through his articles on the walkingsolar website.
Further, he is also the author of two books on Solar Technology, “Solar Power for Villages” and “DIY Solar System for Dummies”.