The breakthrough was announced by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University as part of its work with organic, or polymer, solar cells.
A description in the commission’s report spelled out the everyday benefits: The cells “could be printed and stuck onto buildings or placed in windows or cars, turning light into electricity in locations inaccessible to their heavier cousins.”
But, organic (carbon-containing) polymer cells haven’t yet been all that efficient at turning sunlight into electricity. The U.S. Energy Department noted that researchers have so far hit 11% efficiency.
By comparison, most common commercial solar panels — which use silicon, are typically heavier, and are more rigid — can generate power at 15-20% or more, experts from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems reported.
That’s why the news from Hong Kong is a potential game-changer, as it could make the lower-cost, stretchable organic cells efficient enough for mainstream use. The Energy Department reported that organic cells can be applied to pliable materials like plastic, (or even printed), creating more possibilities.
“[T]his will likely create tremendous opportunities in applications like portable electronics and building-integrated” solar cells, Polytechnic’s Professor Li Gang, who led the research, said in a university report.
“Their [organic solar cells’] manufacture process (has the potential to be) cheaper … offer flexibility in their architecture, and in principle, they can be more environmentally friendly,” Dr. Francesca Fassioli, a theoretical physicist at Princeton University, said in a European Commission report on organic cells.
The Hong Kong team’s description of their breakthrough reads like a lab report, involving molecules, chain reactions, and “crystallization dynamics.”
It’s part of the innovation that has helped the experts in Hong Kong find the right chemistry to turn 19.31% of caught sunlight into power via the organic cells.
“This is a very encouraging result for the long-standing research on [organic solar cells] that I have conducted over the past two decades. We have already achieved better OSC efficiency, and this will subsequently help accelerate the applications of solar energy,” Li said in the university report.
Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.