Swedish Researchers Have Just Beaten the Flexibility Record for Solar Cells
Earlier this month, researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced a stunning new breakthrough in solar cell construction: the creation of the world’s first polymer solar cell without using fullerenes. The new cells, which can be manufactured in thin sheets using low-cost roll-to-roll printing technology, represent a major breakthrough in the manufacturing, installation, and efficiency of polymer solar cells.
For most of the history of the solar energy industry, solar cells have been made with rigid materials and silicone. These cells where typically manufactured in heavy, rigid panels, which were then transported to the site of their installation, hoisted to a roof and installed.
Polymer solar cells have been making gains against silicone based rigid cells because they are flexible, lighter, and cheaper to manufacture. Unfortunately, up until now, the manufacture of working polymer solar cells has required the use of fullerenes.
What’s Wrong With Fullerenes?
Fullerenes are expensive. Fullerenes are unstable when illuminated. Fullerenes also have a tendency to form crystals if they get hot enough. These three weaknesses have always made the use of fullerenes in polymer solar cells problematic. The trouble was, there was no way to get the high efficiency that most customers had come to expect without using the fullerenes to separate charge carriers in the solar cells themselves.
The New Technology
But now, thanks to a team of chemists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and their Swedish colleagues at Linköping University, fullerenes are no longer necessary in the manufacturing of high efficiency polymer solar cells.
The team of researchers broke the existing world record for fullerene-free polymer solar cells. They did so by developing a unique combination of polymers and other molecules that provide the same level of efficiency as fullerene solar cells, but without the fullerenes.
The Big Picture of Advantages
With this new technology, solar manufacturers now have an uncompromised alternative to the old-fashioned silicon-based solar panels that have been in use since the 1970s. Using polymer solar cells instead of silicon solar cells allows solar cell manufacturers to produce thinner, lighter, more easily installed solar power technology that is just as efficient as older systems but far less expensive to purchase and install.
It remains to be seen how long it will take for these advances in solar cell technology to make it into manufacturing and to the consumer.