The University of Cambridge has developed a low cost organic solar cell that has the potential to transform solar production. This new material is made of organic plastic and could be used on awnings, umbrellas and other plastic devices to generate energy.
By placing organic polymers (long chains of carbon-based molecules) in plastic you create an organic photovoltaic cell, that until now have not had much commercial success. With an operating principle similar to photosynthesis in green plants, organic photovoltaic cells are cheap to produce when compared to silicon solar cells, but have quite a low efficiency. This is something which the University of Cambridge is aiming to change.
The university team has reportedly 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. If this can be done, then cheaply produced solar cells have the ability to transform poorer countries and their energy demands.
The university’s Cavendish Laboratory and the Carbon Trust have formed a joint venture company to develop organic solar PV technology, which has been financed with a £4.5 million initial investment from the Trust and specialty chemicals firm Rhodia. Cavendish Labs have reportedly fine-tuned the capability for fabricating large-scale plastic electronic devices on flexible materials using roll-to-roll processes. The new company will be able to focus on developing organic photovoltaics (OPV) on flexible rolls, enabling them to be used more readily and discretely on buildings – and potentially other objects – than conventional rigid photovoltaic panels.
Not only can organic photovoltaic plastic be molded for any purpose, but it can be spray-painted on objects, be it buildings, cars or otherwise. There are also investigations in to creating a silicon-based solar paint, but if organic photovoltaic paint can be produced first, and more cheaply, then it could transform the solar market. Instead of acres of solar cells, cities could be transformed using solar plastics, not to mention the more environmental alternative – bioplastics, which are made from waste-water instead of petroleum.
Images from University of Cambridge