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Microscopy Technique Targets Solar Cells

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PITTSBURGH, Nov. 30, 2011 — A new take on a microscopy technique could help in the design of more energy-efficient solar cells.

Although current plastic solar cells are low in cost and easy to produce, they are not energy-efficient. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are predicting a way to produce solar cells that will offer more flexibility in generating green energy.

Scientist Guangyoung Li explained that most plastic solar cells today are made from a blend of semiconducting polymers and other carbon-rich molecules. Although this material is usable and costs little, it does not assist with energy efficiency, although it could, he said.

Li’s solution is to use Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM), a method that studies the surface potential of cells. Although KPFM is not a new idea, Li plans on using it in a different way.

“The problem with traditional force microscopy is that the resolution is not good enough, so we can’t properly study the domains we need to examine,” said Li.

“Throughout my research, I will work to develop an instrument that will be better able to detect the domains formed from different materials.”

The instrument could help determine the conditions that plastic solar cells should have for better energy efficiency.

Currently, plastic solar cells have achieved an energy efficiency rate of 8.6 percent. Li said that if he can produce solar cells with a 10 percent or higher efficiency rate, they would have a broad impact on the energy market.

“In the future, I can imagine this new, efficient material anywhere — on buildings, roofs, you name it,” said Li. “You could charge your laptop, cell phone or iPod simply by having a charger on you and stepping into sunlight.”

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Nov 2011
Americasefficient solar materialenergyenergy efficiency rate of solar cellsforce microscopygreen photonicsGuangyoung LiimagingKelvin probe force microscopyKPFMMicroscopyopticsPennsylvaniaplastic solar cellsResearch & Technologysolar cell efficiencysolar cell materialsolar cell surfacesUniversity of Pittsburgh

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