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How To Make a Homemade Solar Cell For Yourself

The easiest homemade solar cell can be made quite simply using a sheet of copper and only a few other materials. Below you’ll find step by step instructions for constructing a simple DIY solar cell in less than two hours that should be capable of generating a decent amount of electricity.

Don’t expect these DIY solar cells to be the answer to all of you energy needs, but they can produce enough electricity to power small devices and charge batteries if you connect multiple homemade solar cells together to form a larger DIY solar panel. This project also makes a great tool for allowing children to experiment and learn about the principle of photovoltaics and the possibilities for using solar energy.

Materials You Will Need for Your Homemade Solar Cells

  • Thin copper sheeting, such as copper flashing

  • Metal shears or snips
  • Extremely fine grain sandpaper or an emery cloth
  • A hotplate or other burner
  • Salt
  • Water
  • A large glass mason jar or plastic bottle
  • Alligator clips
  • An amp meter or LCD multimeter capable of reading low voltage levels

Step By Step Instructions for Building Your Own Homemade Solar Cell

  • Step 1: Cutting the copper sheeting

homemade solar cellFirst you’ll need to take your metal shears and cut two equal sized pieces of the copper sheeting. The pieces should be no larger than your burner so you can ensure that the entire piece of copper is heated thoroughly and equally. 

  • Step 2: Cleaning the copper

Now you will need to wash your hands and the piece of copper to ensure that it is free of grease and other contaminants. You should only touch the copper sheet with gloves from this point on. After washing the sheet of copper, you need to take the sandpaper or emery cloth and gently sand down the top layer of the sheet to ensure it is completely free of any debris or contaminants.

  • Step 3: Burning the copper

Turn the burner on to its highest setting and let it heat up thoroughly. Then place one piece of the copper sheeting on the burner. The copper will start to turn a variety of different colors as it heats up, and then it will start to become covered in a thick black coating known as cupric oxide. 

Once the copper is fully covered in the black cupric oxide, let the copper continue to heat on the burner for another thirty minutes. After 30 minutes you can shut the burner off, and then let the piece of copper cool for at least another thirty minutes before touching it. Don’t worry if some of the black cupric oxide layer flakes off during the heating or cooling process, as you will be removing this layer later anyways.

  • Step 4: Gently washing off the scalded layer

Once the copper has sufficiently cooled, tap it gently on its edge on a hard surface to knock off as much of the black cupric oxide as you can. After this you can gently wash it with soap and water to reveal a reddish rust colored layer of cuprous oxide underneath. 

Do not scrub or scour the copper sheeting as you don’t want to damage the layer of cuprous oxide. It’s not necessary to remove all of the black flakes of cupric oxide, just try to get as much of it off as possible without damaging the layer underneath.

  • Step 5: Placing the copper in the mason jar

Now you will need to take the piece of copper that you heated and gently place it inside your mason jar. Be careful not to bend it too much: just gently form it to the inside curve of the jar. Make sure that the side of the copper sheet that was directly on the face of the burner is facing the inside of the jar. 

Next, repeat the same process and place the unheated piece of copper inside the jar on the opposite side of the heated piece of copper, making sure that the two pieces are not touching.

  • Step 6: Connecting the alligator clips

Now take the alligator clip leads from your amp meter or LCD multimeter and connect the positive lead to the unheated piece of copper and the negative lead to the heated copper sheet. 

  • Step 7: Pouring in the salt water

Now you’ll need to thoroughly mix a solution of around 25% salt and 75% water, ensuring that the salt is fully dissolved in the water. This solution will ensure that the two pieces of copper make a connection so that electricity can be generated. 

Slowly and gently pour the solution into your mason jar, being sure to avoid getting the alligator clips wet. The very top of the copper sheets should be above the water to again keep the leads from being wet which will cause your solar cell not to work.

  • Step 8: Letting the sun do its magic

homemade-solar-cellOnce you have filled your jar with the salt and water solution, then your DIY solar cell is ready to start generating electricity. Place the jar in the sunlight, and the copper sheet covered in the layer of cuprous oxide will react photovoltaically and generate a small amount of electricity due the sunlight. 

Connect your amp meter to the alligator clips and you should be able to read how much electricity is being produced. 

Don’t expect this device to produce very much energy, but if you connect multiple of these DIY solar cells together, you may generate enough power to run or charge a small device.

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