Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Cambridge have shown that very simple and inexpensive manufacturing methods in which flexible layers of material are deposited over large areas like cling-film can be used to make efficient solar cell structures.
They have developed a new technique for making polymer solar panels, which could drive down costs.
The study paves the way for new solar cell manufacturing techniques and the promise of developments in renewable solar energy.
Polymer solar cells are cheaper to produce than conventional silicon solar cells and could potentially be made in large quantities. The researchers showed that when complex mixtures of molecules in solution are spread onto a surface the different molecules separate to the top and bottom of the layer in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the resulting solar cell.
They used the ISIS Neutron Source and Diamond Light Source at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to carry out the research.
“Our results give important insights into how ultra-cheap solar energy panels for domestic and industrial use can be manufactured on a large scale. Rather than using complex and expensive fabrication methods to create a specific semiconductor nanostructure, high volume printing could be used to produce nano-scale (60 nano-meters) films of solar cells that are over a thousand times thinner than the width of a human hair. These films could then be used to make cost-effective, light and easily transportable plastic solar cell devices such as solar panels,” Dr Andrew Parnell of the University of Sheffield said,
The study is detailed in the Journal Advanced Energy Materials.