Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blinded by science

All the details are beyond me, but think about how cool it would be to be able to paint a solar panel onto almost anything.

Chad Boutin recently reported for the National Institute of Standards and Technology that scientists are developing organic photovoltaics (see, I’m already getting a little confused). The short version is that they would replace rigid silicon cells. They would begin as a kind of ink that you could paint on various surfaces.

One rub is that the best organic photovoltaics currently can only convert less than 6 percent of light to power and don’t last very long.

Scientists at the institute are working on improving that performance and recently made discoveries that should help make progress.

“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.”

See, clear as mud. But the important part is that, “By applying X-ray absorption measurements to the film interfaces, the team discovered that by changing the nature of the electrode surface, it will repulse fullerenes (like oil repulses water) while attracting the polymer.”

That means improvements in performance and lifespan because the materials aren't mixed haphazardly. That seems like a good thing to me.

And organic photovoltaics, try typing that fast six times, are a hot topic these days. A quick Google search brought up about 230,000 results. Go there for some light reading.

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