Plastic Solar Cells For Electronic Devices
Currently silicon-based solar cells are flooding the market. Industry pundits can foresee a hopeful future for low-cost, flexible solar cells. If we can make solar devices other than silicon based materials then they can be used for all sorts of applications beyond just the traditional solar panels on house rooftops. It will be great if we can have solar cells for portable electronic devices too.
Luping Yu, Professor in Chemistry, and Yongye Liang, a Ph.D. student, both at the University of Chicago, and five co-authors are working to develop a new semiconducting material called PTB1, which converts sunlight into electricity. The University accredited the patent rights to the technology to Solarmer last September. The license covers numerous polymers under development in Yu’s laboratory, confirmed by Matthew Martin. He is a project manager at UChicagoTech, the University’s Office of Technology and Intellectual Property. A patent is pending.
Solarmer Energy Inc. is spreading its wings in this direction. They are willing to incorporate technology invented at the University of Chicago. The commercial-grade prototype will be completed at the end of this year. It will be of eight square inches (50 square centimeters) and lifetime of three years. This plastic solar device will have the efficiency of eight percent. This eight percent efficiency will give an edge to the Solarmer Energy Inc. over its competitors. Dina Lozofsky, vice president of IP development and strategic alliances at Solarmer states, “Everyone in the industry is in the 5 percent to 6 percent range.”
Engineering expertise of Solarmer’s device with Yu and Liang’s semiconducting material, push the material’s efficiency even higher. Solarmer is based in El Monte, Calif., and was founded in 2006. They come forth to commercialize the technology developed in Professor Yang Yang’s laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. The company is developing flexible, translucent plastic solar cells that generate low-cost, clean energy from the sun.
The active layer of PTB1 is around 100 nanometers in thickness and the width is nearly 1,000 atoms. If we want to produce a small amount of the PTB1 material it will take considerable amount of time, and the whole procedure will be multi-step process. But still the biggest advantage of this technology lies in its simplicity. Several products are being synthesized in other laboratories in the USA but the competitive advantage lies in the steps of production too. Other devices need far more extensive engineering work for commercial viability. “We think that our system has potential,” Yu said. “The best system so far reported is 6.5 percent, but that’s not a single device. That’s two devices.”