Using Polymer Solar Cells For Generating Solar Power
Conventional silicon PV cells (made from silicon crystal, similar to wafer silicon used in computers) are quite costly and complex to produce, which has resulted in attempts to create alternative photovoltaic cells. In comparison to silicon solar cells, polymer cells are inexpensive to fabricate, lightweight, flexible, disposable, and yet more environmentally friendly. To date, the disadvantages of plastic polymer cells are their short lifespan and lower efficiency.
Polymer solar cells employ two active materials: electron donor material (polymer) and electron acceptor material (fullerene), rather than a uniform layer of a semi-conductor with negatively and positively charged sides.
How do polymer cells work?
First, the electrons get excited by absorbed light of different wavelengths in the donor region. Next, the excited electrons are acquired by the acceptor region. Next, the holes and electrons are separated in the electric field. And finally, the electrons are collected at contacts as a source of usable electricity.
Polymer cells made as planar heterojunction may contain the following superimposed layers: PET (clear thermoplastic material), ITO/PSS (transparent conductor; acceptor), Active Polymer (a fullerene blend; donor), and Al (semiconductor). The problem with simple planar architecture is that it does not absorb enough useful light.
Bulk heterojunctions (blended donor/acceptor materials) and ordered heterojunctions (hybrid ordered inorganic materials with active organic regions) can be used to address this shortcoming and help the cell to absorb more useful light. With further development, bulk and ordered designs should be able to absorb most incoming photons and convert them into pairs of charge carriers, every one of which would be collected at the electrodes of the cell (the future polymer designs are expected to convert up to 10% of the absorbed solar power into usable electric power).
The efficiency of a polymer solar cell is presently around 3-5%, which is much lower in comparison to most conventional silicon cells. Conventional solar cells have sufficiently higher efficiencies: monocrystalline silicon - 14-17%, polycrystalline silicon - 13-15%, and thin-film amorphous silicon - 5-8%.
Furthermore, polymer solar cells fall victim to environmental degradation (regular plastic materials only last a few years, and will deteriorate under sun exposure over time). So far, there are yet no good protective coatings developed for the polymer solar designs. The future is likely to see exceptionally cheap polymer PV cells, which will last much longer than regular plastic materials.
Currently, polymer solar cells are rarely produced commercially, with some exceptions. The cells can be purchased in some countries and used to recharge laptops, as a window tinting to generate electricity (the cells can be transparent), etc.
It may take decades, but cheaper organic devices may replace the expensive
inorganic solar devices, making for the widespread use of solar power.
In the future, we may be able to use color coded and transparent paper-thin
polymer solar cells to cover our entire house or car, for a good and
inexpensive source of solar energy.
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