Organic solar cells being developed by the team at New Mexico State University and Wake Forest are made of plastic that is relatively inexpensive, flexible, can be wrapped around structures or even applied like paint, said physicist Seamus Curran, head of the nanotechnology laboratory at NMSU.
The level of energy conversion has been a problem for researchers on organic solar technology, with many of them hitting about 3 to 4 percent. But the NMSU/Wake Forest team has achieved a solar energy efficiency level of 5.2 percent. The announcement was made at the Santa Fe Workshop on Nanoengineered Materials and Macro-Molecular Technologies. "This means we are closer to making organic solar cells that are available on the market," Curran said.
Conventional thinking has been that that landmark was at least a decade away. With this group's research, it may be only four or five years before plastic solar cells are a reality for consumers, Curran added.
"Our expectation is to get beyond 10 percent in the next five years," Curran said. "Our current mix is using polymer and carbon buckyballs (fullerenes) and good engineering from Wake Forest and unique NSOM imaging from NMSU to get to that point."