The Solar Powered Cell Phone

The solar powered cell phone. It sounds like something Jethro might make if The Beverly Hillbillies was still on. But it's coming.

Konarka Technologies, which makes flexible solar cells from organic materials, is talking with consumer electronics companies about integrating its solar cells into their products. Konarka may be able to make announcements later this year, said Marko Maschek, a partner at venture firm 3i and an investor in Konarka.

"It works well in interior light too," he said, so you don't have to stand outside in the broiling sun to get a charge.

Konarka was one of the first companies to come out on the clean tech wave, but it hasn't exactly exploded out of the gate. Since 2001, it has raised $60 million, but most of its revenue has come from design engineering fees, not mass production of solar cells. The flexible solar cells the company specializes in are made from dies or organic materials. Thus, they potentially degrade over time, making them somewhat risky for the commercial building market.

The technology behind Konarka in large part emerged from the labs of Alan Heeger, a Nobel Prize winner at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Posted by Michael Kanellos

(but readers objected to this CNet report by noting:)

Would it be too much trouble for CNet to provide a few numbers regarding these new solar cells and the power consumption of a typical cell phone?

Cell phones can get smaller because batteries have been getting better ... more power in a smaller package. Being able to provide a couple days of standby and many hours of talk time on a single charge is huge by comparison to a solar cell's output.

I seriously doubt the six square inches available on the back of my RAZR would provide enough power to make or receive a call. If the purpose is to recharge a battery ... then how long would it take to accumulate enough of a charge to make a 10 minute call? If the purpose is to supplement a battery ... then how much could a small solar panel really contribute?

I think most people would only want solar cells if they knew they could always make a call regardless ... i.e. no more worry about recharging or carrying batteries. Otherwise, what benefit to the user?

Unless there is some major breakthrough in the physics of solar cells, this idea is going nowhere fast.

Background numbers:

Quick Google search-

Solar cell: 0.050 Watts per square inch (50 milliwatts/sq. in.)

Verizon dot com-

Cell phone power during call: 3.000 Watts consumed (3000 milliwatts)

Cell phone power during standby: 0.600 Watts consumed (600 milliwatts)

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Michael Kanellos
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