“According to a new study by Chinese researchers, a new generation of organic solar cells could produce cheaper electricity Tweet This!.
So far, manufacturers used silicon to make solar panels, as this material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. However, organic photovoltaics (OPV) made from carbon and plastic, could be just as effective.
Flexible and efficient: The cells are so pliable they can effectively turn any surface into a solar array – from buildings, to vehicles or even clothing.
Organic photovoltaics do not require fixed installation points, as they can be made of compounds which are dissolved in ink. Thus, they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing.
As regards efficiency (percentage of sunlight turned into usable electricity), commercial solar photovoltaics typically covert 15-22% of sunlight into electricity, with organic solar cells remaining, thus far, at approximately half this rate. However, in April this year, researchers reached 15% in tests and this new study increased this percentage to 17%, with its authors arguing that up to 25% is possible.
With a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could, accordingly, produce cheaper electricity, at a cost of not more than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. (In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.)
A wide range of applications – “Skyscrapers could soon generate their own power”
Highly flexible, organic photovoltaics offer numerous possibilities.
- They can be made semi-transparent and be incorporated into windows, generating power during daylight. According to the Science Mag “Skyscrapers could soon generate their own power”.
- According to Dr Alexander Colsmann, an expert on organic photovoltaics from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, organic solar cells could “power mobile applications – camping gear, smart wearables or phone chargers, just to name a few – which have been only insufficiently addressed by classical solar cell technologies such as silicon.” They could also be used on the roofs of cars, in clothes and even in glasses, to charge your mobile phone when you are out and about.
- According to the University of Melbourne: “They can turn almost any surface into a solar array and provide a cheap and almost limitless energy supply … Organic Solar cells have the potential to perform dual environmental functions, like covering surfaces of lakes or other large expanses to water to help prevent evaporation while simultaneously generating energy. Another is as temporary covers on grain silos in central Australia, to prevent overheating while powering the fans that stop the grain from sweating”.
How far are organic photovoltaics from commercial production?
Not too far away, according to researchers. Dr Yongsheng Chen compares organic photovoltaics to organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), a technology that has been introduced recently and is widely used for high-end TVs. “These are already commercial, and they use a similar material to OPV,” says Dr Chen.
“The physical principle is the same, just a different direction, one is from solar to electricity, the other from electricity to light, the device and structure are similar.”
Other experts in the field were also impressed. “The development of such new materials with previously unthinkable properties allowed them to achieve the reported record efficiency and, in general, makes OPV technology much more promising,” said Dr Artem Bakulin, from Imperial College London.
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