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Energy for the Future

(March 2012) posted on Tue Mar 13, 2012

Organic Solar (OPV) production has begun in earnest.

By Gail Flower

click an image below to view slideshow

In President Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2012, he said that with America having only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. And that “American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.” At this rate, we have enough oil to last the U.S. 100 years. And then he promised that we would not walk away from the promise of clean energy. That’s a world-wide issue.
At FlexTech Alliance this year in Phoenix, AZ, iSP magazine headed a panel discussion on PV that presented many interesting ideas. Most of the panel members saw organic solar (OPV) as the wave of the future, because it uses organic (carbon-based) electronics for light absorption and charge transport. Because the cells are made of plastic, they tend to be cheaper than silicon, and combined with the flexibility of organic molecules and the possibility of additive printing technologies for cell-material production, they are easier to make than silicon, thin-film cells.
Many companies are involved in getting OPV from lab to fab. Bert Männig of Heliatek talked about how his company was spun off from the Technical University of Dresden and the University of Ulm in 2006, bringing together expertise in the fields of organic optoelectronics and organic oligomer synthesis. Right now, Heliatek is making the transition from technology development to industrial manufacture. The company’s goal is to mass produce organic PV panels using vacuum-based, roll-to-roll, low-temperature processes. Männig said his company has set a record for cell efficiency at 9.8% for a 1.1-cm2 tandem cell manufactured using a low-temp deposition process.
Jim Buntaine of Konarka talked about how his company spun out from the University of Massachusetts (Lowell) in 2001. He gave the history of PV, talking about how space power was needed in 1958 and that all satellites now use inorganic PV. From 1972 on, the energy crisis has motivated bringing PV to earth. In stage 3, from 1988, the global environmental impact of fossil fuel has begun to be recognized. The hope in phase 4 is for architectural power—PV power built into building materials. Konarka manufactures OPV cells using a roll-to-roll manufacturing technology and is capable of producing 250,000 ft2 (1 GW/year capability).
Zheng Xu of Solarmer Energy talked about driving down the cost of flexible PV panels. Solarmer was founded in 2006, sprouting from technology licensed from UCLA and the University of Chicago. The company set world records for OPV efficiencies. Xu said that the killer app is power-converting windows.
Solar still has a way to go in increasing efficiencies, lowering costs, getting materials accepted as normal building supplies. Still, it feels good to know that the research from universities actually results in practical jobs and real products for clean energy.


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