What if you could walk into your local hardware store and buy a cheap solar panel to hang on your wall? That may not be such a far-fetched idea according to scientists at the UCLA Henri Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. A team of researchers has designed a new polymer (plastic) with greater sunlight absorption and conversion capabilities than any polymer seen before.
The key to the increased capabilities is the substitution of a silicon atom for a carbon atom in the backbone of the polymer. The substitution led the UCLA researchers to reach a 5.6 efficiency rate— an accomplishment for single-layer low-band-gap polymers.
Of course, other non-polymer solar cells have higher efficiency rates. But plastic has a distinct advantage—price. Polymers, which are already used in products such as pipes, insulators, and toys, are much cheaper to produce than silicon solar cells.
So it isn’t a complete pipe dream to think that you may be plastering solar cells all over any available surface in the next 5 to 10 years.
Photo Credit: UCLA
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