Conservation, Green, Science, Sustainability

Fullerene-Free Solar Cells Set World Record for Using Sun’s Energy

Olle Inganäs and Shimelis Admassie demonstrate solar cells on a roll. Polymer solar cells could be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by researchers.
Olle Inganäs and Shimelis Admassie demonstrate solar cells on a roll. Polymer solar cells could be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by researchers. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång.

Solar power is sort of the Holy Grail of energy. Since sunlight is, effectively, limitless, harnessing it would put an end to want for fossil fuels and the like. We wouldn’t have to drill or mine or frack any more.

Getting solar power to work isn’t quite that easy though, not yet at least. The big hurdle is getting solar panels that efficiently store sunlight, which can be turned into energy. That’s hard because of physics, which complicates the conversion process, makes panels expensive to produce, and takes a huge toll on the devices themselves.

A group of researchers based at Linköping University in Sweden have developed a new process to create solar cells which convert sunlight with 11% efficiency, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is pretty much the standard to which solar cells are held.

What makes these new cells such a big deal is that they are more durable than other cells because they don’t contain fullerenes, which are molecules that swell up when hit with light. They’ve been required for polymer solar cells, which are cheaper alternatives to silicon cells.

The new cells are also polymer, but don’t have to use fullerenes so they’re more efficient than other polymer cells, and they’re easier to produce to boot. These cells can be printed out in sheets, making them easier and cheaper to make and therefor that much easier for manufacturers, governments, and others to justify purchasing and using them.

The real hurdle that solar power faces is its cost-benefit analysis. It takes a lot to convince people that new technology will benefit them, and outweigh the cost of implementing it, but once you can get enough companies or governments or just investors on board, you can really push to make something like solar power widely available.

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