Solar photo-voltaic panels ( solar pv for short ), built from silicon based cells are rapidly becoming the dominant form of renewable energy technology on the planet. Cells as we know them today require exotic materials such as Phosphorus to be added as impurities to the silicon structure. This process known as doping causes the flow of electrons when photons ( light) hits the surface of the cell.
If solar cells and modules are to continue to improve for efficiency and to continue to decline in price we will need to be able to use materials that are cheap and very common everywhere around the world.
Land based solar pv arrays are typically 50 percent of the cost of rooftop but you need a lot of land – organic solar cell development needed to continue with growth.
The world requires huge areas of solar arrays with supporting battery storage systems to be able to produce the electricity needed to stop using fossil fuels.
An organic solar cell or plastic solar cell is a type of photo-voltaic solar cell that uses organic electronics, a branch of electronics that deals with conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules, for light absorption and charge transport to produce electricity from sunlight by the photo-voltaic effect
The ability to use cheap materials and simple manufacturing methods are two huge advantages of printed organic solar cells. Olle Inganäs, professor at Linköping University, is head of a research group that has now developed an even simpler method to manufacture solar cell modules. The results have been published in the scientific journal npj Flexible Electronics.
The energy efficiency of organic solar cells is approaching that of conventional silicon solar cells, but they don’t necessarily have to compete on the same market.
Olle Inganäs, professor of biomolecular and organic electronics at Linköping University said:
The organic solar cells can be used in many contexts, not least those in which their special properties are useful: they can be semitransparent, soft, flexible, can be obtained in different colours, and they are cheap to manufacture.
Together with his research group, he has now developed an improved method to manufacture these thin and flexible solar cells.
In a semi-transparent solar cell module as shown in the photograph, electrodes with two variants of the polymer PEDOT:PSS (commonly used in organic electronics) are used, where one acts as the anode and the other is modified to become the cathode. What appear as stripes across the solar cell module are lines of either cathode-type or anode-type material. The active layer that absorbs light and produces electrons is located between these electrodes. The individual solar cells are connected in series in the module.
When the electrodes and the active layer are printed as thin films on top of each other, defects in one layer will act as points of attack for the next layer to be printed. These defects reinforce each other and cause short-circuits between the top and bottom. Until now, this problem has been solved by passing a current through the cell.
“The defects in each individual cell must be burned away. Not only is this time-consuming, it’s not easy to gain access to all cells, and this means that the reject rate for faulty units is quite high,” Olle Inganäs explains.
Organic Solar Cell Research.
The researchers have now successfully tested a method in which they use instead the active polymer material as glue. Two plastic films, one with the anodes and the other with the cathodes, are covered by the active material before the complete unit is laminated together. Since only two layers are to be printed, the number of defects is lower and the probability that two defects are located exactly opposite each other during the lamination is negligible.
He points out;
It just doesn’t happen. But we did discover that when we laminate the two layers together to give a flexible and robust module, the solar cells generate more current when illuminated from one side than from the other. Of course, we want the cell to generate the same current no matter whether the sun is rising or setting.
The researchers have shown that it is moisture causing the trouble. Small electron traps form in the material that capture electrons before they reach the electrode. The problem can be solved by manufacturing the anode and cathode films, and then rapidly laminating them together with the active polymer in a protective atmosphere. The shorter the period that the film is exposed to moisture the better.
“We have shown that this lamination method works with many different combinations of polymer, and that the energy efficiency is just as high as that obtained by conventional manufacture,” says Olle Inganäs.
The organic solar cell modules that have been developed by Olle Inganäs and his group at Linköping University are being developed and manufactured by the spin-off company Epishine, which has chosen to aim at the market for indoor cells. The organic solar cells then absorb the indoor illumination and create enough current to power, for example, sensors that keep track of a dog when its owner is not at home, or that measure the indoor humidity or temperature. Indoor illumination has a different spectrum and intensity than sunlight, so the conditions of use are simpler and the efficiency high.
In a semi-transparent organic solar cell module as shown in the photograph, electrodes with two variants of the polymer PEDOT:PSS (commonly used in organic electronics) are used, where one acts as the anode and the other is modified to become the cathode. What appear as stripes across the solar cell module are lines of either cathode-type or anode-type material. The active layer that absorbs light and produces electrons is located between these electrodes. The individual solar cells are connected in series in the module.
About Gordon Smith Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.