Plastic solar cells pave way for clean energy industry

September 20, 2012
Plastic solar cells pave way for clean energy industry

(—A Flinders University researcher has been developing a cheaper and faster way of making large-scale plastic solar cells using a lamination technique, paving the way for a lucrative new clean energy industry.

The novel method, developed by PhD candidate Anirudh Sharma, is a promising alternative to the expensive currently used in the renewable energy sector, and would make the of plastic more viable.

While plastic solar cells have been researched for the past 15 years, Mr Sharma said the current fabrication process, which involves , was still relatively expensive and time-intensive for large-scale production compared to his lamination technique.

"In the conventional method of fabricating plastic solar cells you have to deposit various materials sequentially on top of each other in a sandwich structure but over time the materials intermix, leading to device degradation," Mr Sharma, based in the School of Chemical and , said.

"However my technique involves deposition of materials on two different electrically conductive surfaces, followed by lamination. It gives better control over the material intermixing and thus can give more stable and better performing devices," he said.

"The entire lamination process is roll-to-roll compatible, which means that the lamination technique could be integrated with printing machines similar to newspaper printers.

Therefore the materials can be deposited by printing and devices can be fabricated by lamination at the same time, making the entire process scalable at relatively much lower costs.

"This is a much cheaper way of fabricating solar cells because you can make a large number of devices in a very short time, and this method of self-encapsulation can potentially help improve the life-span of the device as well."

Mr Sharma said plastic solar cells were a cheaper and more sustainable form of renewable energy compared with silicon-based devices.

"For the past 50 years, the traditional solar panels which you see on rooftops have been made from silicon but these cells are very expensive to produce because silicon requires excessive amounts of energy to purify.

"Plastic solar cells, on the other hand, are really light and flexible so they can be used to coat a whole range of different surfaces – they are portable enough to put them on day to day carry bags and even camping tents – and plastic itself is cheap as chips.

"Building developers are already looking at integrating with the latest building designs by using plastic solar cell-coated window panes for new buildings so this technology will definitely replace silicon in the very near future.

"And my research shows real promise for a faster, more cost-effective way of making plastic cells."

Explore further: New record achieved with Konarka's Power Plastic photovoltaic material with 8.3% efficiency certification

Related Stories

Commercial 'green' solar cells may be possible: researchers

November 22, 2011

Developing solar energy that is low-cost, lightweight, and energy efficient has proven to be one of the greatest challenges the science world faces today. Although current plastic solar cells are low in cost and easy to produce, ...

Printing solar cells

June 29, 2011

Australian researchers have invented nanotech solar cells that are thin, flexible and use 1/100th the materials of conventional solar cells.

Recommended for you

Polymer additive could revolutionize plastics recycling

February 24, 2017

When Geoffrey Coates, the Tisch University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, gives a talk about plastics and recycling, he usually opens with this question: What percentage of the 78 million tons of plastic used ...

Nano-sized hydrogen storage system increases efficiency

February 24, 2017

Lawrence Livermore scientists have collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of researchers including colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories to develop an efficient hydrogen storage system that could be a boon for ...

Electrons use DNA like a wire for signaling DNA replication

February 24, 2017

In the early 1990s, Jacqueline Barton, the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry at Caltech, discovered an unexpected property of DNA—that it can act like an electrical wire to transfer electrons quickly ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Sep 20, 2012
Plastic solar cells needs must use petroleum to make the plastics. So what is their carbon foot print going to be?
5 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
Plastic solar cells needs must use petroleum to make the plastics. So what is their carbon foot print going to be?

The plastics themselves are negligible compared to the total energy used to mkae stuff (i.e. just because the stuff is on a plastic substrate doesn't make it any more damaging to the environment than if it were produced on some other substrate - and the plastic isn't burned so the plastic itself doesn't add to the carbon footprint at all). Silicon PV is already very clean compared to conventional sources and silicon requires a LOT more power to purify.

The life-time of silicon solar cells is already nothing special,

I put some on my dad's roof 15 years ago. Degradation since then is about 5% (with some uncertainty as it's a fit curve over the yearly averages. Yearly output does fluctuate quite a bit. But even if you take the worst case curve you get about 8% degradation). So I expect them to be ueseful up there for another 40-50 years
5 / 5 (1) Sep 20, 2012
The 'clean' comes from the fact that phtovoltaics produce energy (you know - that's what they are there for). They produce more energy than it takes to make them (depending on where you look the EROI is between 5 and 10).

So the real calculations here is: What is your carbon footprint with and without the photovoltaics?

Let's take the average or EROI of 7.5:

With photovoltaics: For 7.5 parts of energy you get out you invest 1 part (i.e. a carbon footprint of a nomalized value of 1 - and not even that if the energy for production comes from alternative energy sources)

Without photovoltaics: For 1 part of fossil energy you have a carbon footprint of 1 - and lacking alternative energy that is not reducible.

So yeah: A ratio of 7.5 (or greater if you use alternative energy to produce the PV cells) over fossil fuels is a LOT cleaner in my book.
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
It doesn't explain, why the solar energy must be subsidized heavily just with money generated with fossil-carbon energy.

Because pumping stuff out of the ground and letting people off the hook fo the waste and environmental damage they cause makes stuff (fossil fuels) cheap. And you think oil companies don't get tax breaks/subsidies?

Yes: fossil fuels are cheaper if you ignore the environment and ancillary costs. But you may notice: that is becoming less and less of an option. And when the bill is presented money will not buy us a way out of it.
So we're at a point where pure dollar values aren't relevant anymore. There's more to life than dollars (like: having an environment in which you can live at all).

Nuclear just isn't acceptable because of the risks. Some countries cannot afford to declare a few hundred square kilometers off limits every few decades.
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
These need to be put in shingles, and they need to last 20 years, same as regular shingles. Most of the cost of solar is now installation. With solar shingles, it's a cost I'd mostly have to pay anyway, for a new roof. And I should be able to walk on them occasionally without damage, same as regular shingles.
Bottom line: I need a cost differential between regular shingles vs. solar shingles as installed, and I need to compare that to cost of equivalent power for the lifetime of the roof.
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
Solar and wind plants aren't any better

Pop quiz: which is better?
a) A powerplant that takes energy that is there anyhow (wind, sun) turns it into electricity for that energy to be releeased elsewhere.


b)one that pumps additional energy into the sytsem that was sequestered before - creating gases inth eporcess that trap even more energy from yet another source (the sun) in the atmosphere and creating widspread pollution/incalculable risk to human life and property (through global waming)...or, in the case of nuclear: basically indefinite liabilities in waste management and also incaculable risks for human life and property. All the while being dependent on already very expensive raw materials that will only grow more expensive in the future (and already being outcompeted economically by most types that come under a)

So your rationale for sticking with b) is...?
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
they must be backed and balanced with fossil fuel plants, which increase the grid load

Just a week ago this was posted

And you read it because you commented on it. So what youz are basically doing here is: admitting that you are not ashamed to lie openly.

How not so very surprising. I would suggest it's time for another sockpuppet. This one has long outlived any cred you even imagined it ever had.

At the moment, when the solar plant deals with accumulation of energy, it just becomes a huge waste of money

The universe, the climate, and the amount of fossil fuels present do not care about money. Money has long since ceased to be relevant to human survival (if it ever was). I'm not sure you are connected enough to reality to realize that it's do-or-die a species.

These need to be put in shingles, and they need to last 20 years

Google. You can already buy them.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
Just a week ago this was posted
Unfortunately, this is just a theory for naive Americans, who are forced to believe, the solar plants are panacea of their energetics. The reality is, the solar and wind plants are already destabilizing the grids in the Europe. And this is not a theory, but a bare fact. It's quite natural consequence of the fact, the solar and wind power in particular are emergent and solely unpredictable. It's not clear for me, why and how such a random source of power could ever stabilize something - but it's your problem to explain it, not mine one..
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
There may be no single alternative energy source,but several different complementary sources--tidal,wind,solar,and hydro.
I am startled by a lack of coordination probably based upon the reliance on boiler technology.
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
"A penny saved is a penny earned," said Ben Franklin. The cheapest energy is the energy you don't use. Recent analysis predicts that solar energy will be cheaper than conventional energy by the middle or end of 2015. Once the cost of panels is below $1/ watt, it will be less expensive to install pv panels than conventional grid power. One large Swiss manufacturer is predicting they'll be able to sell their panels for a profit at $0.45/ watt once their new factory in China is finished and up and running. Shipping and installation are extra, of course.

Another factor no one has talked about yet is that mortgage lenders will be giving preference to buyers of houses which have renewable power sources. This is because the monthly cost of the installations is fixed, while the cost of most non-renewable energy sources will go up and up and up. What will be the price of a barrel of oil or a ton of coal 5 years from now? Nobody knows.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
@natello Without these subsidies the solar plant will pay itself during forty-fifty years (whereas nuclear plant just after twenty years for comparison). Where is the actual problem with your line of reasoning?
Fossil fuel is subsidized by US wars which is half the tax revenue. Moreover coal, nuclear and oil have very heavily subsidized by the government. Factoring that in, fossil fuel are hundreds of times more subsidized than solar.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
Factoring that in, fossil fuel are hundreds of times more subsidized than solar.

In absolute amounts, true, but in subsidies per kWh produced the solar facilities lose out dramatically.

The problem is that the actual real world capacity factor, the amout of energy produced per installed capacity, is very poor for solar energy. In Germany it's below 10% which is why they're spending so many billions of Euros on it and only managing to cover single percentage points in the demand with it.

And which is why they're now building more coal plants to replace the nuclear energy they shut down.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
There may be no single alternative energy source,but several different complementary sources--tidal,wind,solar,and hydro.

And I think everyone is aiming for an energy mix (no country would try to do it all just with one techology - unless they are in a far larger grid)

I am startled by a lack of coordination probably based upon the reliance on boiler technology.

There's a lot of inertia to overcome with the big energy companies. They're still hoping to buy elections to get their nuclear reactors back on line (those things are gold mines: Subsidized research, subsidized building, subsidized disposal of wastes, subsidized fuel, subsidized decomissioning, no liability for damages at all...and you can sell the energy at an enormous profit).
So they're fighting tooth, nail and claw against restructuring of the grid (even though that, too, is subsidized).

They fear that power production will not be a monopoly after that - and rightly so.

not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
Just a link from neighboring topic

Oh boy: The figures and arguments on that site range from stupid to idiotic to moronic.

Comparing x amount of cubic meters of used solar panels to x amount of cubic meters of nuclear waste? Really? That's supposed to be an argument?

Additionally: Solar panels do not need to be thrown away at all after their useful lifetimes. Melt them down. Recast. Make new panels.

And no: you cannot store used nuclear fuel just by dumping it on on top of the old used fuel. The volume needed to make this stuff 'safe' for storage is MUCH more than the mere volume of the radioactive material itself.

This site is just a laugh.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
The laughing is not an argument as well.

Come on, don't tell me it's laughable when they argue about 'solar cells being an inch thick' inch? last I checked solar cells are like 200 micron thick, and the newer versions are merely 20 microns.

These guys are so misinformed it's not even funny.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2012

Have you taken a look at a map lately?

Germany is like 10 degrees farther north than the desert southwest and Texas, and has much more "weather" to interfere with solar power.

4.5 square meters worth of parabolic mirrors at 30% system efficiency can pay for itself (not the entire system though,) in about 2 or 3 MONTHS vs the price of the same amount of energy (after efficiency adjustment) from fossil fuels. And you don't have to keep buying it over and over again.

I swear somebody is not calculating EIvsEO correctly for wind and solar, because every way I've tried to calculate it, I find that wind and solar pay for themselves MANY, MANY times over during the life time of the collector.

Boilers are ~3 times as thermodynamically efficient as PV panels.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2012
I looked up the price of one solar project being undertaken in Arizona, and based on the price of the construction of the facility, and the energy content of fossil fuels, plus efficiency, and the cost of those fuels, the solar power plant should be able to pay for it's entire cost in fuel savings in just about 3 or 4 years of operation; not to mention that fossil fuel plants still have many of the same build costs and more as compared to solar, i.e. pipes, turbines, boilers, etc.

Since most of the components should have life spans of several decades at the very least, the energy out per unit cost* will actually be perhaps tens of times greater than fossil fuels power plants throughout the lifetime of the system.

* this includes both build costs and maintenance costs.

I was able to get this number exactly based on the build cost of the project and the designed capacity...

... and I added an extra year to the payback period to cover permanent labor and maintenance, to be sure.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2012
Now idiot.

The Solar power plant literally will last for at least several decades, since most of the passive parts actually have theoretical life spans of hundreds of years, while the active parts such as some gears and stuff costs relatively nothing compared to the cost of the entire system.

The entire plant costs less than the fuel alone for a fossil fuels power plant to make the same power capacity for a period of 3 or 4 years.

Therefore, the power per unit cost over large time scales such as the plant design lifetime of decades, should be on the order of at least 10 times in a matter of 30 to 40 years, and that is vs the PRESENT DAY cost of oil, coal, natural gas, etc.

Whoever claims this doesn't pay for itself is doing something completely wrong and ridiculous in their calculations, such as perhaps not even counting the fuel cost of a conventional plant, ro else not counting the build cost?! I don't know, they're clearly just wrong and ridiculous either way.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2012
Check this out. While searching for info on the Colorado river idea for that other thread, I found this.

Its an article about a nuke power facility.

If the $16 billion facility is built, it would generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 3 million households.


these start up costs are almost exactly the same build costs per-megawatt as a solar facility I had just been looking at earlier today.


1.45 billion to build a 250Mw solar plant.

16 billion to build a 3000Mw nuke plant.

250/1.45 = 172Mw per billion, installed. Never needs fuel ever again.

3000/16 = 185Mw per billion, installed....but you have to pay for fuel and disposal and accidents and God knows what else.

Solar = far cheaper and cleaner than nuke...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.