Ricoh’s new solar cell can generate electricity even in transparent panels.

Ricoh has developed a new solar cell that has a 20% higher maximum power output than its current product and can generate electricity from room lights or less.

As the cell can operate at subfreezing temperatures, it can be used in refrigerator sensors and for a variety of other purposes. Ricoh plans to start selling the product in late May, targeting plants and distribution warehouses, among other customers.

The company plugged into the solar cell business using its vaunted multifunction printer technology in 2020 and is seeking to make the business profitable by fiscal 2023, which ends in March 2024.

For one of the new solar cells measuring 5 by 8 cm, the maximum power output is 276 microwatts. A microwatt is one-millionth of a watt.

The cells can operate in temperatures from minus 30 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees, both colder and hotter than conventional products’ range of zero to 50 degrees.

Ricoh expects that the new solar cell will be used to power sensors inside high-temperature plants and low-temperature distribution warehouses.

An increasing number of companies are acquiring data in real time from sensors on production lines or in the distribution process in order to make their manufacturing operations more efficient and improve the quality of their products.

In the past, button cells have been used as power sources for many sensors. But with the increase in the number of sensors due to the proliferation of the Internet of Things — meaning practically everything is connected through the internet — the trouble of having to replace all those batteries has become an issue.

Ricoh’s dye-sensitized cell can generate electricity even in nearly dark places using the slightest light available.

Based on the photoconductor technology it uses for multifunction printers, Ricoh made it possible to generate electricity efficiently without using liquid electrolytes. There is nothing to spill, and the new solar cell can operate for a long time.

As the cell can be embedded in transparent panels and still generate electricity, Ricoh intends to expand the use of the new product to purposes other than powering sensors in the future.