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Paint-like organic solar cells to be the future of solar

Paint-like organic solar cells to be the future of solar
Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering. Photo from University of Buffalo

The next-generation of photovoltaic materials could be cheap, organic and as easy to apply as a coat of paint.

Qiaoqiang Gan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Buffalo, is developing a new generation of photovoltaic cells that could produce more power but cost less to manufacture than what is currently on the market.

He uses plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials that can be made or processed in liquid form, allowing them to be applied to a wide array of surfaces.

“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint,” said Mr. Gan.

Currently, solar power is produced with either silicon wafers of thin-film solar cells made up of inorganic materials such as amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride. The price of solar cells is driven up by the fact that these materials are either expensive themselves or subjected to an expensive manufacturing process.

The organic materials in organic P.V. - such as polymers and small molecules – are usually carbon-based and less expensive.

The drawback to organic P.V.s is they don’t have the efficiency of silicon-based and thin-film solar cells. Organic P.V. cells have to be thin due to their poor electronic conductive properties. Because they are thin, there is less material to absorb lights and this leads to insufficient power conversion.

In order to compete in the solar market, organic P.V. cells need to gain a power conversion efficiency of around 10 percent or more.

In an attempt to achieve this, Mr. Gan and his fellow researchers incorporated metal nanoparticles and or patterned plasmonic nanostructures into their organic P.V. cells.

Recent material studies suggest they are succeeding, he said. Mr. Gan and his co-authors argue that, because of these breakthroughs, there should be a renewed focus on how nanomaterials and plasmonic strategies can create more efficient and affordable thin-film organic solar cells.

Mr. Gan is continuing his research by collaborating with several researchers at U.B. including: Alexander N. Cartwright, professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering and UB vice president for research and economic development; Mark T. Swihart, U.B. professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the university’s Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems; and Hao Zeng, associate professor of physics. – EcoSeed Staff

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