The Sun’s For Mobile Phones

The company that invented the first mobile cell phone may have another neat innovation in the works. Motorola   has been issued a patent for combining a solar panel with an LCD screen for mobile devices. The patent was issued last month.

With increasingly sophisticated and power-hungry mobile devices on the rise, a solar-powered option might prove worthwhile, but it may require some unique design if not changes in consumers’ habits. Patent attorney Bruce Sunstein said Motorola isn’t the first company to combine a display to a solar cell, but the mobile aspect is an interesting twist.

“This is pretty cool technology. The Motorola patent says they can capture 75 percent of all light on the display to the solar cell. That’s pretty significant, but we may have to think differently about how we use such a phone,” Sunstein, a cofounder of Bromberg & Sunstein, told

“For example, the Motorola Razr fits beautifully in your pocket when it’s folded, but you’re not going to get any light to a closed device. Maybe these solar phones won’t have covers or we’ll get in the habit of leaving them open to charge.”

He also notes Apple’s forthcoming iPhone has a relatively large (3.5 inches) display area and may signal a trend to larger displays, which would take in more sunlight.

Zili Li, a Motorola inventor and one of three names listed on the patent, said it would help move the company closer to its vision of seamless mobility. “We continue to research ways to bring solar panels to mobile phones in a way that would appeal to our customers and serve the global environment at the same time,” he said in a statement.

It’s possible the solar panel could also be used to supplement a more traditional lithium battery to extend the overall battery life of a mobile device. Other technologies may also come into play.

“Battery technology is something to watch,” said Sunstein. “If we can get a battery that lasts two weeks, we won’t want to bother with alternatives like solar, although if you could safely lay the device in sunlight and get another two weeks’ charge, that has potential,” he said. “It’s also not impossible to imagine nanotechnology helping to bring us a battery that’s more like a fuel cell you power by adding lighter fluid.”

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