Researchers from North Carolina State University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have found that temperature-controlled aggregation in a family of new semi-conducting polymers is the key to creating highly efficient organic solar cells that can be mass produced more cheaply. Their findings also open the door to experimentation with different chemical mixtures that comprise the active layers of the cells.
Ade, Ma and a team of chemists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology led by He Yan show that size scale and aggregation within these devices are strongly temperature dependent. They also show that record efficiencies of up to 10.8 percent – as opposed to the currently published 9.8 percent – are achievable with the substitution of numerous fullerenes. Additionally, this performance can be achieved in thick film devices.
“Once we saw how temperature affected the aggregation and morphology of these solar cells, it allowed the chemists more freedom to play with different chemical compositions in the active layer,” Ade says. “Yan’s team demonstrated 10 percent efficiency with 10different mixtures, and in thicker films. So these solar cells could be compatible with existing methods of mass production, like slot die casting and roll-to-roll processing similar to newspaper printing, rather than the more expensive production methods currently in use that are required for thickness control.
“We hope that these findings will allow others to experiment with different polymer:fullerene blends, further increasing the efficiency of solar cells, decreasing their production costs and leading to a commercially viable alternative source of energy.”
Although the field of polymer solar cell has seen much progress in device performance in the past few years, several limitations are holding back its further development. For instance, current high-efficiency (over 9.0%) cells are restricted to material combinations that are based on limited donor polymers and only one specific fullerene acceptor. Here we report the achievement of high-performance (efficiencies up to 10.8%, fill factors up to 77%) thick-film polymer solar cells for multiple polymer:fullerene combinations via the formation of a near-ideal polymer:fullerene morphology that contains highly crystalline yet reasonably small polymer domains. This morphology is controlled by the temperature-dependent aggregation behavior of the donor polymers and is insensitive to the choice of fullerenes. The uncovered aggregation and design rules yield three high-efficiency (over10%) donor polymers and will allow further synthetic advances and matching of both the polymer and fullerene materials, potentially leading to significantly improved performance and increased design flexibility.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.