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USC team develops promising polymer for solar cells

November 09/2011

(Physorg) -- Currently, most solar cells are based on silicon which for the most part, necessitates a rigid structure. This isnt always ideal as some applications would benefit by material that is more bendable. Also, because of the way silicon solar based cells are made, they tend to cost more than a lot of people are willing to pay. If a way could be found to mass produce solar cells very cheaply, its likely solar cells would be installed in far more places and costs for energy would go down.

One way to do this, researchers believe, is to create a polymer based material that could be used instead of silicon. Such material would cost less to produce and have sufficient bendiness that it could be printed onto bendable surfaces in much the same way newspapers are mass printed, i.e. via giant rollers. Up

Now a team working out of USC, headed by Alan Heeger, who along with Guillermo Bazan won the Nobel Prize in Physics back in 2000 for groundbreaking work they did on polymer cells, believe they have made another breakthrough. In their paper, published in Nature Materials, they say theyve figured out a way to use an organic material with a low molecular weight (small molecule) to produce a solar cell that is every bit as efficient as current silicon technology.

The small molecule technology came about as the result of work done by Bazan, who used theory and lots of trial and error to produce just the right material; one that could, unlike many others that had been tried, be formed into a layer that could be applied to other materials. Heeger then took the lead in applying the new material in a solar cell. The end result the team says, is a solar cell capable of matching the 6.7% energy efficiency of silicon cells. And not only that, they believe with some tweaking, they can get it to 9%.

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