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New Organic Solar Cell Production Method Proposed

Posted on the 25 October 2013 by Dailyfusion @dailyfusion
The polymer blend morphology without (left) and with (right) nanowires.The polymer blend morphology without (left) and with (right) nanowires. (Credit: See citation at the end of this article)

Physicists at Imperial College London have come up with a technology that might help bring down the prices on organic solar cells. They propose a new method to control the arrangement of polymer molecules to create ordered pathways along which electrical charges can easily travel.

“To collect a lot of sunlight you need to cover a large area in solar panels, which is very expensive for traditional inorganic—usually silicon—photovoltaics,” explains says Ji-Seon Kim, a senior lecturer in experimental solid-state physics at Imperial College London. The high costs arise because traditional panels must be made from high purity crystals that require high temperatures and vacuum conditions to manufacture.

A cheaper solution is to construct the photovoltaic devices out of organic compounds—building what are essentially plastic solar cells. Organic semiconducting materials, and especially polymers, can be dissolved to make an ink and then simply “printed” in a very thin layer, some 100 billionths of a meter thick, over a large area. “Covering a large area in plastic is much cheaper than covering it in silicon, and as a result the cost per Watt of electricity-generating capacity has the potential to be much lower,” she says.

One major difficulty with doing this, however, is controlling the arrangement of polymer molecules within the thin layer. In their paper, Kim and colleagues describe a new method for exerting such control. “We have developed an advanced structural probe technique to determine the molecular packing of two different polymers when they are mixed together,” she says. By manipulating how the molecules of the two different polymers pack together, Kim and her colleagues created ordered pathways—or “nanowires”—along which electrical charges can more easily travel. This enables the solar cell to produce more electrical current, she said.

“Our work highlights the importance of the precise arrangement of polymer molecules in a polymer solar cell for it to work efficiently,” says Kim, who expects polymer solar cells to reach the commercial market within 5 to 10 years.

Wood S, Kim JS, James DT, Tsoi WC, Murphy CE, & Kim JS (2013). Understanding the relationship between molecular order and charge transport properties in conjugated polymer based organic blend photovoltaic devices. The Journal of Chemical Physics, 139 (6) PMID: 23947884

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