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Spray-On Solar Cells Pursued

Photonics.com
Mar 2009
WARWICK, UK, March 18, 2009 – Creating solar cells you can wear, fold and bend – even spray onto surfaces – is the goal of a four-year research program set to begin next month under a consortium of eight UK universities.

The £3.4 million (about $4.7 million) SUPERGEN Excitonic Solar Cell Consortium is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and brings together the universities of Warwick, Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Imperial College, Loughborough and Oxford.

The University of Warwick is leading the effort to prepare and characterize new solar cells using the processes of light absorption, exciton movement and current generation, which can be studied on a time scale extending down to femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second).
ExcitonicSolarCell.jpg
This excitonic solar cell, based on conjugated polymers, shows the simple sandwich structure. The active layer is a mixture of two polymers that separate to give a nanostructured interface. (Image: EPSRC)
Standard solar cells tend to be heavy and are silicon-based, while excitonic solar cells (ESCs) are made from organic compounds, dyes, gels or liquids. Light absorption leads to electronically excited molecular states called excitons. Excitons transfer energy between molecules for a few tens of nanometers until they reach an interface between two materials where the energy is used to create an electron in one material (phase) and a hole in the other, creating current.

They can be made using low-cost methods that could deposit or even spray onto both rigid and flexible bases. One could wear them, use them to power electronic products bent to fit a space or a body shape, or even spray them onto the roof of a vehicle that could easily not take the weight of conventional solar cells.

“There have also been initial steps to commercialize some ESCs, with the first manufacturing plant to produce dye-sensitized excitonic cells opening in the UK in 2007,” said lead researcher and University of Warwick research chemist Tim Jones. “However, it is widely recognized that much fundamental research still needs to be carried out, in particular on the less well developed organic and hybrid excitonic cells.”

Under the program, Bath and Imperial College are developing dye-sensitized and nanoparticle-sensitized solar cells, while Cambridge and Imperial College are investigating organic solar cells, including polymer blends, molecular heterojunctions and hybrid organic/inorganic systems. Edinburgh’s contribution is in the molecular design and synthesis of new materials such as dyes and hole-transporting organic compounds.

For more information, visit: www2.warwick.ac.uk


GLOSSARY
electron
A charged elementary particle of an atom; the term is most commonly used in reference to the negatively charged particle called a negatron. Its mass at rest is me = 9.109558 x 10-31 kg, its charge is 1.6021917 x 10-19 C, and its spin quantum number is 1/2. Its positive counterpart is called a positron, and possesses the same characteristics, except for the reversal of the charge.
exciton
A moving, electrically neutral, excited condition of holes and electrons in a crystal. One example is a weakly bound electron-hole pair. When such a pair recombines, with the electron "falling" into the hole, the energy yielded is the bandgap decreased by the binding energy of the pair.
fold
1. A flaw in a blank caused by folding the blank's surface during its formation. 2. The change in the direction of a system's optical axis caused by a reflective component.
nanoparticle
A small object that behaves as a whole unit or entity in terms of it’s transport and it’s properties, as opposed to an individual molecule which on it’s own is not considered a nanoparticle.. Nanoparticles range between 100 and 2500 nanometers in diameter.  
phase
In a periodic function or wave, the segment of the period that has elapsed, measured from some fixed origin. If the time for one period is expressed as 360° along a time axis, the phase position is called the phase angle.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
polymer
A material whose molecular structure consists of long chains made up by the repetition of many (usually thousands) of similar groups of atoms.
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