Over the next fifty years society is going to need to supply the growing energy demands of the world’s population without using fossil fuels, and the only renewable energy source that can do this is the Sun. Plastic (polymer) solar cells are much cheaper to manufacture than conventional silicon solar cells and have the potential to be produced in large quantities.
Using neutron reflectivity, we have shown that when complex mixtures of molecules in solution are spread onto a surface, like varnishing a table-top, the different molecules separate to the top and bottom of the layer in a way that maximises the efficiency of the resulting solar cell. These results have given 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 nanoscale (60 nanometer) solar cell films.
PA Staniec, AJ Parnell, ADF Dunbar, H Yi, AJ Pearson, T Wang, AJ Ryan, A Iraqi, RAL Jones, DG Lidzey (University of Sheffield), PE Hopkinson, AM Donald (University of Cambridge), C Kinane, RM Dalgliesh (ISIS)
Research date: August 2011
Contact: Dr A Parnell, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading: PA Staniec et al., Adv. Energy Mat. 1 (2011) 499