Solar-Cell Squabble

Article ID: 538754

Released: 18-Mar-2008 5:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: IEEE Spectrum Magazine

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Newswise — For a while, 2007 looked to be the year when organic photovoltaic (PV) technology would finally come into its own. Reports from leading research labs claimed record-setting breakthroughs in performance. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy began welcoming investigators working on organic PV to compete for its mainstream solar-research grants, and venture capitalists invested tens of millions of dollars in organic PV development firms like Konarka Technologies, in Lowell, Mass., and Plextronics, in Pittsburgh.

Spurring all this activity was the promise of a much cheaper and more versatile source of solar power. Unlike traditional semiconductors such as silicon, this newer class of PV employs carbon-based plastics, dyes, and nanostructures and can be manufactured via a printing process that would be far cheaper than the high-temperature vacuum processing used for inorganics. Organic PV is also much more flexible and lighter in weight than inorganic, suggesting an enormous range of uses, including portable battery chargers and power-producing coatings for roofing shingles, tents, and vehicles.

Of course, such promising possibilities will only materialize once the technology becomes robust and powerful enough to be commercialized. After a number of groups claimed last year that they had succeeded in producing solar devices that approached the threshold for commercialization, others in the field publicly accused them of inflating their results. In "Solar-Cell Squabble," IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Peter Fairley sorts through the claims and counterclaims being made about this promising new technology.


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