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New Plastic Solar Cell Design Promises Bright Future

With the world’s population is growing so quickly, how will we all be supplied with electricity sustainably? Reserves of all the major fossil fuels are dwindling more and more rapidly due to demand increases.

As these supplies diminish, they become impractically expensive for more and more people. Plus, there is global warming to deal with! Fortunately, solar panels don’t automatically become more expensive when electricity demand increases. When you buy your own solar panels, you lock in your electricity rate for the next 30 years or more!

An improvement in plastic solar cell design could help to make this easier for more people and applications. Researchers, including students and faculty members at Northwestern University, led by Tobin J. Marks have developed a new polymer (plastic) solar cell with a fill factor of 80%.

plastic solar cells

Nature Journal Article Figure 2: Device architecture and performance of inverted BHJ polymer solar cells. a, Inverted device architecture, ITO/ZnO/polymer:PC71BM/MoOx/Ag. b, Energy level diagrams for PTPD3T, PBTI3T and PC71BM. c, J–V characteristics of PTPD3T:PC71BM and PBTI3T:PC71BM BHJ inverted solar cells fabricated using chloroform (CF)…

“Our results indicate that the power-conversion efficiency achievable with polymer solar cells may be far beyond the current levels, heralding a bright future for this technology,” Marks said. “With our high fill factors, polymers with very good but not champion light absorption still are able to achieve very good efficiency.”

According to Northwestern University’s website:

The team showed that the exceptional fill factors arise from high levels of order in the mixture of polymer donor chains and buckyball acceptor components, the way these two components are distributed within the cell active layer, and a ‘face-on’ orientation of the polymer chains on the electrode surface.

The fill factor achieved is more than 10 percent greater than previously achieved by the polymer solar cell community, and, in the present study, although the polymer semiconductors have non-optimal light absorption characteristics, a near-record power-conversion efficiency as high as 8.7 percent is still obtained.

Apart from Tobin J. Marks, the other authors of the paper are Xugang Guo, Nanjia Zhou, Sylvia J. Lou, Jeremy Smith, Daniel B. Tice, Jonathan W. Hennek, Rocío Ponce Ortiz, Shuyou Li, Lin X. Chen, Robert P. H. Chang and Antonio Facchetti, of Northwestern; Juan T. López Navarrete, of the University of Malaga, Spain; and Joseph Strzalka, of Argonne National Laboratory.

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writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:


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