Try matching it up to the record in solar cell efficiency recently set by two University of Delaware scientists — 5.4% vs. 42.8% — and it certainly doesn't sound worthy of a new world record. However, there is an important caveat: the record-setting solar cell technology created by Plextronics, a Pittsburgh-based organic semiconductor startup, is organic.
Organic solar cells — made out of plastic-like polymers — are much cheaper when compared by the conventional inorganic, silicon and metal-based solar cells typically favored by the solar industry. Their one main disadvantage, of course, is their relatively low efficiency (measured as what percent of light is converted to electricity): when compared with the 20 - 40% efficiencies regularly attained by inorganic crystalline solar cells, the 5.4% efficiency sounds almost disappointing.
While their solar cells may not have the highest efficiency, Plextronics' organic cells have several potential applications that conventional cells lack — portable electronics devices and power backup, amongst other "off grid" functions. Because they are flexible, the cells could be used in clothing for on-the-go battery charging — a function several clothing manufacturers have already employed to varying degrees of success. Another advantage is the cells' low cost: they are about 5 times cheaper than conventional silicon-based solar cells — which makes them ideal candidates for developing countries' energy markets. If their estimates hold true, the cost of solar cell production may soon be driven to a viable $1/watt.
Imagine the possibilities...
Via ::Earth2Tech: Startup: Plextronics, Organic Solar Cells (blog), ::Inside Greentech: Solar goes organic (news website)