Sep 29, 2014
Now that global climate changed has been scientifically proven to be a present and future problem, researchers and companies alike are working all over all the world to come up with more efficient solutions to this inevitable fate. One of the main focuses has been to create more affordable solar cells so that solar power technology can become more accessible to the commercial public. This has been an issue that synthetic chemists and polymer scientists have been working on for decades.
This month, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released an exciting report stating that they have come up with a more efficient and lightweight, low-cost organic solar cell that is “breaking the electrode barrier” since virtually any metal can be used with it. One of the main problems with solar power technology is that the power conversion efficiency, that is how much energy from the sun that can actually be harnessed and utilized, has been hindered by the instability and susceptibility to oxidation that normal metal electrodes commonly face.
“The sun produces 7,000 times more energy per day than we can use, but we can’t harness it well. One reason is the trade-off between oxidative stability and the work function of the metal cathode,” explains UMass Amherst’s Thomas Russell, professor of polymer science and engineering. When choosing a metal for use as an electrode, scientists always have to compensate with the trade-off. More stable metals that don’t degrade in the presence of water and oxygen have high work function but do not allow for good electron-transport. The metals that have high electron-transport eventually degrade over time and will therefore slowly become less conductive.
“People have thought you’d need to use tricks to help electrons, the water in the lock, over an obstacle, the electrode, like a dam. Tricks like sawing the dam apart to allow the flow. But tricks are always messy, introducing a lot of stuff you don’t need,” says Russell. “The beauty of the solution reached by these synthetic chemists is to just move the dam out of the way, electronically move it so there is no longer a difference in energy level.”
This has been a challenge that was unmet and was therefore the goal that was accomplished by the research team at UMass Amherst.
To read the specifics about just how this research team was able to create these new low-cost organic solar cells, check out the following links:
University of Massachusetts Amherst