German researchers developing higher-efficiency organic solar cells


July 4, 2012

A flexible organic solar module developed by researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

A flexible organic solar module developed by researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, through its Light Technology Institute, this month will initiate new research on printable organic solar cells. The four-year project aims at increasing the efficiency of such cells to more than 10 percent. These promising, cheaper solar cells can be manufactured using existing techniques such as screen printing and continuous roll-to-roll processes. So far, however, low efficiency rates have stood between these cells and the market.

The methodology the KIT researchers are going to use is based on a tandem architecture, which involves combining multiple solar cells that offer complementary levels of light absorption. They stack two solar cells directly on top of each other and together they can harvest more sunlight and, consequently, achieve better efficiency rates.

Organic solar cells are also known as plastic solar cells. They are light, flexible, semi-transparent, more environmentally-friendly than other types of cells, and offer a quicker return on investment. Such characteristics open up possibilities for exciting new applications, especially in architecture, where the cells could be integrated into the design of buildings. Other areas offering potential for the technology include the manufacturing of automotive parts and consumer goods.

The research will also look into new materials, as well as ways to improve the cells’ stability. All testing will be done in real-life contexts, including manufacturing processes, which will be done in an industry-compatible production environment in order to improve chances of commercially-applicable results.

KIT researchers are not the only ones working to improve organic solar cell efficiency, but if they achieve their desired goal, this type of solar cell could get closer to becoming competitive with standard, non-organic silicon models.

The research has been made possible with €4.25 million (US$5.32 million) in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology. All articles by Antonio Pasolini

Something new and exciting almost every day!

Jansen Estrup

With PV panels already at $1/wt retail with installing the largest cost now, lower cost cells at lower eff than 20% actually cost more/kw because the installation is 2x's the size.

And that is if they can actually make these at that eff and they actually last 20+ yrs. among other sources.


Price / kW is an issue if they're fixed panels, however if the PVs can be incorporated into building cladding / roofing then it's a moot point.

Do we have any figures on the embedded energy of these PVs though? Not much point if they're anything like as diabolically energy-hungry as silicon PVs are to make.

Chris Hooley
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