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NIST scientists study how to stack the deck for organic solar power
Date:7/29/2009

A new class of economically viable solar power cellscheap, flexible and easy to makehas come a step closer to reality as a result of recent work* at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where scientists have deepened their understanding of the complex organic films at the heart of the devices.

Organic photovoltaics, which rely on organic molecules to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity, are a hot research area because in principle they have significant advantages over traditional rigid silicon cells. Organic photovoltaics start out as a kind of ink that can be applied to flexible surfaces to create solar cell modules that can be spread over large areas as easily as unrolling a carpet. They'd be much cheaper to make and easier to adapt to a wide variety of power applications, but their market share will be limited until the technology improves. Even the best organic photovoltaics convert less than 6 percent of light into electricity and last only a few thousand hours. "The industry believes that if these cells can exceed 10 percent efficiency and 10,000 hours of life, technology adoption will really accelerate," says NIST's David Germack. "But to improve them, there is critical need to identify what's happening in the material, and at this point, we're only at the beginning."

The NIST team has advanced that understanding with their latest effort, which provides a powerful new measurement strategy for organic photovoltaics that reveals ways to control how they form. In the most common class of organic photovoltaics, the "ink" is a blend of a polymer that absorbs sunlight, enabling it to give up its electrons, and ball-shaped carbon molecules called fullerenes that collect electrons. When the ink is applied to a surface, the blend hardens into a film that contains a haphazard network of polymers intermixed with fullerene channels. In conventional devices, the polymer network should ideally all reach the bottom
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Contact: Chad Boutin
boutin@nist.gov
301-975-4261
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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