November 26, 2008
Thin Plastic Solar Cells Reach 5.6% Efficiency

A UCLA team reached a photovoltaic light conversion efficiency which while low is a substantial improvement for thin light weight plastics.

Currently, solar cells are difficult to handle, expensive to purchase and complicated to install. The hope is that consumers will one day be able to buy solar cells from their local hardware store and simply hang them like posters on a wall.

A new study by researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has shown that the dream is one step closer to reality. Reporting in the Nov. 26 edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering, and colleagues describe the design and synthesis of a new polymer, or plastic, for use in solar cells that has significantly greater sunlight absorption and conversion capabilities than previous polymers.

The research team found that substituting a silicon atom for carbon atom in the backbone of the polymer markedly improved the material's photovoltaic properties.

Yang's lab has reached 5.6% efficiency. Yang thinks 10% efficiency is achievable with plastic photovoltaics.

The new polymer created by Yang's team reached 5.1 percent efficiency in the published study but has in a few months improved to 5.6 percent in the lab. Yang and his team have proven that the photovoltaic material they use on their solar cells is one of the most efficient based on a single-layer, low-band-gap polymer.

While the efficiency is low the use of plastics can deliver a couple of benefits. First off, low cost is a possibility. Second, the light weight and flexibility creates the possibility of installation in locations which could not support heavier weight photovoltaics. For example, long lightweight PV sheets could be hung on the sides of buildings.

The biggest potential downside of a plastic is degradation in response to prolonged light exposure. The product would need to be extremely cheap to make frequent replacement economical.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 November 26 12:00 PM  Energy Solar

th said at November 29, 2008 2:30 PM:

While technology has improved things vastly in many areas, it seems the fossil fuel replacement area is one that technology is conspicuously failing to deliver on in terms of real results. Since the seventies, trillions have been spent, yet nothing is even close to any efficiency that would be considered a breakthrough. I would assume anything with a shot would have to come in the 70% to 80% area, not 35% on down. Despite all the hype, hybrid engine cars are not better than an ICE model designed specifically for energy efficiency. The question is, at what point will the intelligentsia admit it's a failure and isn't doing much more than embezzling from taxpayers to fund itself?... my guess... never.

James Bowery said at December 24, 2008 7:04 AM:

The reality, according to Neal Dikeman, partner with VC firm Jane Capital Partners, is that only one or two thin-film projects have brought product to market in 30 years, and it's a US $100M-$200M dollar up-front investment "just to play the game and see if your product really works."

Silicon Valley investors have mistakenly bet on "really great teams" while the technology is still at a science experiment stage, he argues investors are beginning to realize this, he thinks, and that the industry is sitting on the back end of about 5-10 years of US $100M bets. "We're going to see a bunch of write-offs coming up," he warns.

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