Imagine having your car or even house covered in colour coded solar cells, or a solar panel as thin and as flexible as a piece of paper – yet much stronger. Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are working towards such versatility in solar power solutions.
The team have designed a new polymer with solar cell applications that improves on the sunlight absorption and conversion attributes of other polymers. The research team discovered that by substituting a silicon atom for a carbon atom significantly enhanced the material’s photovoltaic properties. A polymer is a type of low cost plastic, used most commonly in packaging and pipes.
Polymer solar cells have been around for quite some time, but their efficiency has been quite low and they also suffer from environmental degradation. The new polymer developed by the UCLA team has reached 5.1 percent efficiency in the study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society; but according to researcher Professor Yang Yang, has improved to 5.6 percent in the lab.
While traditional solar cells on the market such as those used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have an efficiency of anywhere from 12% – 18% and amorphous thin film solar panels achieve efficiencies of up to 8%; the advantage of the new polymer cells aside from their flexible properties is they are far cheaper to produce than monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin film. Yang also believes that with further development, the polymer solar cell can achieve a 10 percent efficiency.
Given the nature of solar product development, don’t expect to see the new polymer solar cells on the general market for quite some time, however it’s encouraging to see new technologies and efficiency breakthroughs announced nearly daily now, which bodes well for a cleaner and greener energy future courtesy of solar power