Researchers in the UK have discovered a new process that could create inexpensive, mass-produced solar devices by printing a thin layer of plastic polymer photovoltaic cells over a cling-like film. The technique results in an efficient structure for generating solar energy without much effort – traditional silicon solar cells rely upon the creation of intricate nano-structures that require lots of time and money to develop.
“Our results give important insights into how ultra-cheap solar energy panels for domestic and industrial use can be manufactured on a large scale. Rather than using complex and expensive fabrication methods to create a specific semiconductor nanostructure, high volume printing could be used to produce nano-scale (60 nano-meters) films of solar cells that are over a thousand times thinner than the width of a human hair,” said Dr Andrew Parnell of the University of Sheffield, one of the researchers involved in the study. “These films could then be used to make cost-effective, light and easily transportable plastic solar cell devices such as solar panels.”
The research was conducted by a group of scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Cambridge using the ISIS Neutron Source and Diamond Light Source at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. In order to ensure that the solar cells were arranged efficiently, the researchers used a super-bright X-ray combined with neutron beams to probe the solar cells without causing them damage. The researchers believe with further research they’ll be able to use this technology to place the solar cells into increasingly more efficient arrangements. “In a couple of hours enough energy from sunlight falls on the Earth to satisfy the energy needs of the Earth for a whole year, but we need to be able to harness this on a much bigger scale than we can do now. Cheap and efficient polymer solar cells that can cover huge areas could help move us into a new age of renewable energy,” noted Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield.