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Organic cell development makes flexible solar possible

8th Nov 2011

A new energy efficient organic small-molecule solar cell has been developed in the US, leading
the way for printable solar panels to be developed.

Developed by a team from the University of California Santa Barbara, the solar cell has an energy efficiency rating close to those with a polymer base - almost 7 per cent.

Further research should see the cell reach 9 per cent efficiency within a year, according to developers.

"These results provide important progress for solution-processed organic photovoltaics and demonstrate that solar cells fabricated from small donor molecules can compete with their polymeric counterparts," ABC Science quoted researchers as writing in Nature Materials.

The team - lead by Nobel Prize winner Professor Alan Heeger - is one of many laboratories around the world currently investigating organic solar cell devices.

Successful developments using the organic cell technology would allow for the mass production of flexible and cost-effective solar devices.

The cells have similar properties to those on Australian rooftop solar systems. Its lightweight nature allows the cells to be made into inks and printed over large areas - easily adapted to a variety of applications, including solar-cell patches, and over uneven surfaces.

Materials scientist Dr Chris McNeill from Monash University told ABC Science that the main benefit of these solar cells is the ability to manufacture them cheaply in a reel-to-reel printing process - similar to that used by newspapers.

"If you can manufacture a module that is lightweight, efficient and low cost people will take that up," he said.

"[With organic solar cells] you don't need to do any changes to the infrastructure of the roof because you can literally roll it out, stick it on and plug it in".

Developers say it's "too soon to know" how these materials will fare in the market, they believe that a respectable level of efficiency has been reached and that these solar materials show promise.

"Now we should take them seriously," Professor Guillermo Bazan said.

The next step will be to convert the efficiency of the organic solar cell to a large-scale model.

While the organic solar cell technology continues to be developed, rooftop solar power systems offer Australians an accessible solar solution now - allowing them to generate their own energy while saving money and the environment.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent 

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