The flexibility of polymer solar cells

Across the world, chemical and bio-engineering scientists are developing innovative ways to produce organic solar cells with increased efficiency.

In China, researchers from Nankai University and the South China University of Technology have teamed up with the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing to co-develop organic PVs made from carbon and plastic. The new design has achieved a conversion rate of 17.3% efficiency.
“Organic solar cells have several important advantages. These include flexibility, low cost in both investment and environmental aspects, and semi-transparency,” says Dr Yongsheng Chen, professor of chemistry and materials science at Nankai University and member of the research team.

“The active materials are made of carbon-based organic and plastic materials, which make the cells flexible, light and can be integrated with buildings and different structures. They also have a low environmental cost.”

Yongsheng’s team tweaked their organic PV design, making cells out of two layers of different active organic materials under the tandem cell method. Each layer can absorb light at different wavelengths, therefore absorbing a larger spectrum of sunlight throughout the day.

These flexible cells can be made semi-transparent and integrated into building windows. They can be incorporated into car roofs, aircraft wings, and even clothing.

Meanwhile in the UK, NextGen Nano devised a similar organic polymer solar cell, which exhibits the same pliable properties as the Chinese design.

“The beauty of this breakthrough is that these new solar panels can be designed to fit virtually any application. This could be anything from the delicate contours of an electric vehicle or the wings of an aircraft, to the exterior surface of a building or even the shoulders of the jacket you’re wearing – making energy generation possible anywhere,” says Stone.

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