Sep 25, 2008
DIY solar cells on tour
Easy-to-make nanostructured solar cells have been a big hit this summer. Designed by researchers at the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, Denmark, the polymer-based devices require no vacuum or inert processing and can be prepared almost anywhere.
"More than 2000 modules have been produced so far and most of them have been given away at a public science festival to power small electronic gadgets such as radios, pocket calculators and soduko games," Frederik Krebs of Risø's polymer department told nanotechweb.org. "The devices can be stored under room conditions and left for long periods of time without any special precautions."
To make the hybrid cells, the researchers mix soluble zinc oxide nanoparticles with a thermocleavable conjugated polymer and heat the combination to give an insoluble film. "Anybody can do it," said Krebs. "My record is less than 15 minutes from start to finish for a four-layered device." The design is completed by an ITO-coated top substrate and a silver back electrode.
It's worth emphasizing that both the preparation and operation of the device are carried out in the open air without any efforts to protect the device from atmospheric components.
The kit is a great ambassador for affordable and accessible solar technology and the scientists enjoy taking their work out on the road. "Our device is a wonderful teaching tool, which is part of the reason why I did this work," explained Krebs. "We've got some large demonstrations coming up in 2009."
Looking ahead, Krebs is confident that the team's polymer photovoltaics can live up to expectations, but it will take some hard work to get there. Industrially produced versions of the group's hybrid cell have performed poorly compared with the original hand-made devices, but Krebs thinks that the team's second attempt will be much closer to the mark.
The researchers presented their work in a special issue of Nanotechnology.
About the author
James Tyrrell is editor of nanotechweb.org.