'Cling-film' Solar Cells Could Be Revolutionary

photo diamond light source solar cling film story art

An artistic image of a sextupole magnet, from Diamond Light Source, where the research was conducted.

Could it really be this easy? Harnessing the power of the sun with a window cling? Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Cambridge have published research on manufacturing ultra-cheap solar energy panels for large-scale domestic and industrial use. The idea is to use high-volume printing to produce nanoscale films of polymer solar cells --- cells more than a 1,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair.Now we've heard of thin-film and other solar advancements before. But the existing technology, with polymer solar cells, is only 7-8% efficient. The next step is to develop cells that are 10% efficient, or more, the scientists say.


A polymer solar cell ready for testing. Photo Credit: Andrew Parnell

The researchers used the ISIS Neutron Source and Diamond Light Source at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to study the crystallinity of the material and examine its composition profile.

According to Physorg.com:

"The study showed that when complex mixtures of molecules in solution are spread onto a surface, like varnishing a table-top, the different molecules separate to the top and bottom of the layer in a way that maximises the efficiency of the resulting solar cell."

Robert Dalgliesh, one of the ISIS scientists involved in the work, said, "... Using neutron beams at ISIS and Diamond's bright X-rays, we were able to probe the internal structure and properties of the solar cell materials non-destructively. By studying the layers in the materials which convert sunlight into electricity, we are learning how different processing steps change the overall efficiency and affect the overall polymer solar cell performance."

The details of the technology used here are as interesting as the research, see this video about Diamond Light Source:

This study, published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, used a photovoltaic blend of materials called PCDTBT: PCBM, and based on the Nobel-prize-winning, 1996 chemistry work of professors Richard Smalley and Harry Kroto.

The research was funded with a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and a new grant to carry out further studies has been awarded. The ISIS and Diamond Light Source devices are affiliated with the Science & Technology Facilities Council.

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