July 12, 2007
New Record In Organic Photovoltaic Efficiency

Only six and half percent efficient in converting sunlight to electricity but the materials used raise the specter of photovoltaics manufacturable from cheap materials.

Using plastics to harvest the energy of the sun just got a significant boost in efficiency thanks to a discovery made at the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Nobel laureate Alan Heeger, professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara, worked with Kwanghee Lee of Korea and a team of other scientists to create a new "tandem" organic solar cell with increased efficiency. The discovery, explained in the July 13 issue of the journal Science, marks a step forward in materials science.

Tandem cells are comprised of two multilayered parts that work together to gather a wider range of the spectrum of solar radiation -- at both shorter and longer wavelengths. "The result is six and a half percent efficiency," said Heeger. "This is the highest level achieved for solar cells made from organic materials. I am confident that we can make additional improvements that will yield efficiencies sufficiently high for commercial products." He expects this technology to be on the market in about three years.

Heeger co-founded Konarka Technologies a few years ago to commercialize his solar cells research. The press release isn't specific on this point but Konarka might be the company to watch on the subject of commercializing the technology.

If Heeger's team can substantially raise the conversion efficiency and also cheaply manufacture solar cells with this design then solar photovoltaics could finally take off. Solar initially will cut into peak demand. But solar could also provide energy for transportation once cheap high capacity batteries for cars become available.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 12 10:54 PM  Energy Solar

John L. Sokol said at July 16, 2007 1:34 PM:

I think the problem with Organic Solar Cells is they will brake down with long exposures to UV and will not have the long life of silicon solar cells.
What good are cheaper solar cells if you have to replace them every 5 to 10 years?

Randall Parker said at July 16, 2007 9:10 PM:


Whether they are cost effective depends on:

1) How cheap they are.

2) How efficient they are.

3) How long they last.

4) How hard they are to replace.

If the price is incredibly low compared to silicon photovoltaics and replacement costs are very low then they can make economic sense. Look how long paint lasts. Can organic photovoltaics last as long as paint? If so and if they can be nearly as cheap as paint then they will be big winners.

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