Economical Plastic Solar Energy

2001/02/14 Galarraga Aiestaran, Ana - Elhuyar Zientzia

Although the energy from the sun is increasingly used, for many it is too expensive. Solar cells made with a new plastic make it possible to obtain clean and economical energy, as they triple the efficiency of previous solar cells.

The main problems for electricity generation and its use in everyday life are the price too high and the low efficiency. There are two ways to reduce this type of energy: one of them is that solar panels collect more forces of action on the same surface and the other is the use of cheap materials to make solar cells. The most efficient solar cells so far are very expensive, while testing with cheap, light and flexible plastic materials has not been productive. Although they are less efficient, if they are very cheap they could be commercially acceptable, but for this they should have minimal effectiveness.

Sean Shaheen and his team at Johannes Kepler University in Austria have obtained a hopeful result. A solar cell made of plastic has been invented to use the force of the sun with practicality. They may not apply to high space technology, but they do apply to the energy supply of cities.

Virtually all solar cells marketed today, known as photovoltaic cells, are formed by a thin, rigid layer of silicon or silicon alloy and other semiconductor material. The best ones also have an efficiency of 20%, that is, they transform a fifth of the solar energy to obtain electricity. However, the effectiveness of conventional commercial panels is only half of them.

Researchers at Johannes Kepler University have mixed a conductive polymer (MDMO-PPV) and fulerene (PCBM) to increase efficiency. The toluene used in the research carried out to date has been replaced by chlorobenzene to mix both components, obtaining a very satisfactory result. They say that organic solar cells represent a very important technological advance in the energy sources of the future.

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