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Solar Panels May Someday be Applied as Easily as Paint

Most of us would love to have solar power feeding energy into our homes and cars and gadgets, but two big issues arise when we begin to entertain those ideas: The high price of photovoltaic panels keeps them out of reach of many household budgets, and the difficulty of mounting flat rigid panels on curved or uneven surfaces (especially those that may flex or move during use) is not an easy thing to overcome.

However, in the next couple of years, we may start to see photovoltaic technology becoming as easy to apply as paint, thanks to work currently being done with new variations of organic photovoltaics.

According to Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, most current solar cells are made with either thick polycrystalline silicon wafers or thin films constructed of amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride, which are both expensive.

But the work that Gan is doing with plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials has a great potential to replace some of those materials, while also expanding the ways they can be deployed.

Because these new types of materials are made and processed in liquid form, they can be applied to both flexible or rigid surfaces, enabling their use in a greater variety of applications.

“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.” – Gan

While the work on organic photovoltaic cells is promising, there are drawbacks to them, including the fact that by their nature (as a thin material) their optical absorption and consequent power conversion efficiency are limited. Gan said that the technology needs to hit at least a 10% power conversion efficiency to compete on the market with other options, and to that end, he and other researchers are experimenting with nanoparticles and patterned nanostructures in their designs.

The findings of Gan and co-authors is published at Advanced Materials: Plasmonic-Enhanced Organic Photovoltaics: Breaking the 10% Efficiency Barrier

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