Significant work continues on polymer photovoltaic cells despite the stunning recent collapse of Konarka (Lowell, MA).
A polymer photovoltaic cell produced by Professor Yang Yang at UCLA has achieveda power conversion efficiency of 10.6%, as certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). That ranks among the world’s top level among polymer photovoltaic cells that are
available at the moment.
Conventional wisdom is that polymer photovoltaic cells are expected to play a significant role in the development of the next generation solar cell technology because of their lightweight, thin and flexible nature. Using a special printing process, large surface area cells can be manufactured in quickly.
However, the road to commercialization can be a long and expensive one. Successes in the lab are more common than successes in business.
The newly-developed UCLA polymer photovoltaic cell uses a tandem cell architecture, which, by bringing together two photoelectric conversion layers with different absorption bands, enables a broader spectrum of solar energy to be utilized, thereby delivering higher conversion efficiency compared to single-layer solar cells.
The performance of the polymer photovoltaic cell depends on the combination of the materials with different absorption bands as well as the material used as an interlayer. The power conversion efficiency of 10.6% has been achieved by combining a short-wavelength absorption material and an interlayer material capable of minimizing electrical loss, that were developed by UCLA, with a highly-efficient long-wavelength absorption material developed by Sumitomo Chemical.
Dr. Yang has his PhD from UMass Lowell, the same university where the idea for polymeric PV cells yielded a Nobel Prize and gave birth to Konarka, which is in bankruptcy proceedings after failing to find new financing. Yang wants to make a polymer solar cell with an efficiency of 15%.
The most advanced commercial player in polymeric PVs today is Plextronics (Pittsburgh, PA), which last year received $15 million in financing from European chemicals’ powerhouse Solvay. Plextronics specializes in polymer-based materials and technologies for key applications of printed electronics such as organic light emitting diodes (OLED), specifically OLED displays and lighting, as well as organic photovoltaic cells (OPV).