What can organic solar cells bring to the table?

When you picture solar power, chances are you conjure up images of large solar panels spanning the length of a rooftop or a large solar farm out in a field. But what if you could put a solar panel in the sunroof of a hybrid car, on a tent or within the windows of an office building? What if you could power a vaccine refrigerator in a remote place with a flexible solar panel that could be shipped in a mailing tube? These are just a few possible applications of a relatively new technology known as organic solar cells (OSCs) — new, at least, when compared with silicon solar technology, which has been around since the 1950s. Like traditional silicon solar technology, OSCs turn the sun’s energy into usable electricity. But they are far more versatile than conventional solar photovoltaics. OSCs are lightweight and flexible and can be made to be semitransparent or in various colors. These qualities give them potential applications for textile, vehicle and building-integrated solar cells, and for creating power in areas where it does not exist. Unique Applications While additional funding and research are needed to bring OSCs to the commercial market, experts agree they will play an important role in the future of solar technology. That said, they won’t replace or compete head-to-head with silicon solar cells. “We shouldn’t expect to see expansive fields of OSCs, like those that generate gigawatts of power at silicon solar farms,” says Seth Marder, a chemistry professor at Georgia Tech.  Silicon solar is suitable for providing large-scale solar power, while OSCs have other unique strengths that guide its real-world applications.  Two unique features of OSCs are their thinness and flexibility. While a typical silicon solar cell is about as thick as the average width of a human hair, most OSCs are roughly a thousand times thinner. Because of their thinness and flexibility, OSCs can be fabricated on curved surfaces and flexible backings. For example, they can be patched or integrated into the fabric of tents, backpacks and even clothing. Most of these products are still under development and occupy … Continue reading What can organic solar cells bring to the table?