The University of Cambridge has come up with a low cost organic solar cell that opens up some intriguing new possibilities in solar energy design. Although the Cambridge team is focused on bringing large scale photovoltaic devices to the market, the new technology could also lend itself to a smaller canvas, yielding such products as solar-energy generating umbrellas and canopies. For that matter, even small objects like plastic cups and straws could some day double as mini solar power generators.
Organic Photovoltaic Technology
Organic photovoltaics are simply solar cells made with organic polymers (long chains of molecules), which are based on carbon, in contrast to silicon solar cells which are made from – well, silicon, which is a metalloid. Despite their low production costs, organic photovoltaic cells have not shown much commercial potential due to their low efficiency. At least, that was the case until the University of Cambridge got involved. The team has come up with a commercial model that combines efficiency improvements, a longer lifespan, low-cost (and low-toxicity) raw materials, a cost-effective manufacturing process, and a product line that focuses on economies of scale and ease of installation.
About that Plastic…
Organic photovoltaic cells can be spray-painted onto just about any plastic substrate, and that’s where things could get fun. There are new developments in silicon-based solar spray-ons, too. Solar “paint” could be applied in a variety of colors and patterns to buildings, infrastructure and decorative objects instead of just creating acres of monotonous solar panels, and the plastic substrate could be made from a variety of bioplastics, rather than petroleum based plastics – even bioplastics made from wastewater.
Image: Plastic straws by Horia Varlan on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.