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    • 2013-10-22 11:05:00
    • Article ID: 609256

    Low-Priced Plastic Photovoltaics

    Article in "The Journal of Chemical Physics" Describes New Approach to Making Cheaper, More Efficient Solar Panels

    • Credit: Imperial College/S. Wood & J. Bailey

      The polymer blend morphology without (left) and with (right) nanowires.

    Jason Socrates Bardi

    +1 240-535-4954

    [email protected]

    WASHINGTON, D.C. Oct. 22, 2013 -- Photovoltaic devices, which tap the power of the sun and convert it to electricity, offer a green -- and potentially unlimited -- alternative to fossil fuel use. So why haven’t solar technologies been more widely adopted?

    Quite simply, "they’re too expensive," says Ji-Seon Kim, a senior lecturer in experimental solid-state physics at Imperial College London, who, along with her colleagues, has come up with a technology that might help bring the prices down.

    The scientists describe their new approach to making cheaper, more efficient solar panels in a paper in The Journal of Chemical Physics, produced by AIP Publishing.

    "To collect a lot of sunlight you need to cover a large area in solar panels, which is very expensive for traditional inorganic -- usually silicon -- photovoltaics," explains Kim. The high costs arise because traditional panels must be made from high purity crystals that require high temperatures and vacuum conditions to manufacture.

    A cheaper solution is to construct the photovoltaic devices out of organic compounds—building what are essentially plastic solar cells. Organic semiconducting materials, and especially polymers, can be dissolved to make an ink and then simply "printed" in a very thin layer, some 100 billionths of a meter thick, over a large area. "Covering a large area in plastic is much cheaper than covering it in silicon, and as a result the cost per Watt of electricity-generating capacity has the potential to be much lower," she says.

    One major difficulty with doing this, however, is controlling the arrangement of polymer molecules within the thin layer. In their paper, Kim and colleagues describe a new method for exerting such control. "We have developed an advanced structural probe technique to determine the molecular packing of two different polymers when they are mixed together," she says. By manipulating how the molecules of the two different polymers pack together, Kim and her colleagues created ordered pathways -- or "nanowires" -- along which electrical charges can more easily travel. This enables the solar cell to produce more electrical current, she said.

    "Our work highlights the importance of the precise arrangement of polymer molecules in a polymer solar cell for it to work efficiently," says Kim, who expects polymer solar cells to reach the commercial market within 5 to 10 years.

    The article, "Understanding the Relationship between Molecular Order and Charge Transport Properties in Conjugated Polymer Based Organic Blend Photovoltaic Devices" by Sebastian Wood, Jong Soo Kim, David T. James, Wing C. Tsoi, Craig E. Murphy and Ji-Seon Kim appears in The Journal of Chemical Physics. See: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4816706

    The authors of this manuscript are affiliated with Imperial College London, National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom, KAIST in the Republic of Korea.

    ABOUT THE JOURNAL

    The Journal of Chemical Physics publishes concise and definitive reports of significant research in the methods and applications of chemical physics. See: http://jcp.aip.org

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    The Spintronics Technology Revolution Could Be Just a Hopfion Away

    The Spintronics Technology Revolution Could Be Just a Hopfion Away

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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

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    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

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    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

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    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

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    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

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    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

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    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

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    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

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