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Life of plastic solar cells jumps from hours to eight months

Posted on June 28, 2010
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A team of researchers from the University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology has extended the operating life of an unsealed plastic solar cell from mere hours to eight months.
 
U of A chemistry researcher David Rider says plastic solar-cell technology is a very competitive field and the accomplishment by the U of A-NINT team is quite an achievement.
 
"Inexpensive, lightweight plastic solar-cell products, like a blanket or sheet that can be rolled up, will change the solar energy industry," said Rider.
 
The research team initially hit a wall trying to increase the operating life of their plastic solar-cell design. Rider says one of the problems involved electrodes, a key piece of the circuitry required for the efficient extraction of electricity from the solar cell.
"A typical electrode priming coating is known to be unstable and can migrate through the circuitry, potentially limiting the performance of our cell to about 10 hours," said Rider.
 
So the researchers came up with a new polymer coating that outlasted their original by more than 5,000 per cent: When Rider and team submitted their findings to a science journal, the new plastic solar cell had clocked 500 hours of high-capacity performance.
 
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And Rider says that the solar cell might still be working at high capacity today, had it not been for damage caused during return shipping from additional testing in Ottawa. "Seven months after we handed in the research on the 500-hour breakthrough, the solar cell was still working," said Rider.
 
The research of Rider and his colleagues Jillian Buriak and Michael J. Brett was published this week in Advanced Functional Materials.
Rider says that, despite his team's success and advances made by research groups around the world, there's a lot of work to be done before plastic solar-cell kits are available at home-improvement stores across Canada.
 
"We have to increase their efficiency while maintaining a long-performance life," said Rider. "Getting eight months of high-capacity performance out of our design is moving in the right direction."
 
Image: David Rider shows off an unsealed plastic solar cell.
Source: University of Alberta
 

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