Presently, most photovoltaic cells are made from silicon. That is because organic materials, such as carbon, which had been tried, proved to be highly inefficient. To the extent that they would only convert one percent of the sun’s energy to electrical energy that could be used. However, a breakthrough by a university in the US has led to carbon based PV cells becoming far more effective. For the consumer, the major upside to this will be that solar cells made from organic material would be much cheaper.
The key is a substance called rubrene. It is a crystal which is a natural semiconductor, and when the researchers at the university of Rutgers experimented with it, they found that excitons travel many times further through it than they do through other types of organic semiconductors that had been tested previously. In fact, were far closer to the performance of substances currently being used in solar panels such as gallium and silicon.
This has a way of becoming very technical and confusing, but just to be clear, an exciton is basically a very small particle (even by “particle” standards) which is produced, and shoots off, when photons (light particles) are absorbed by semiconducting materials. In short, they are the things which make it possible for materials to convert solar energy into electrical energy. And the better they work in a material, the further they travel, the better the material will be at converting solar energy.
One of the reasons this is good news, that the materials can be produced at lower costs, is that organic semiconductors have the capacity to be produced in the form of large plastic sheets, which will make the manufacturing cost go down. This could turn out to be good news not just for those interested in the development of solar energy, but also for other products, for example video displays.
And this of course is just the latest breakthrough in solar energy technology. There have been many recent advancements, some more practical, some more pie in the sky. Quite literally in one case in fact, with the plan to grow crystals in the vacuum of space and even eventually on the moon in the future in order to get the best results. This is of course a very important, and also fascinating field of research. It brings together the most advanced technology, including nano-technology, with important global issues, namely anthropogenic global warming. So anything which makes it cheaper and more attractive to private individuals as well as larger companies who might be looking into building solar farms, is all very welcome.
This most recent development is only in its early stages and there probably won’t be anything on the market for some time now. That goes for most of the projects in development at the moment, and while it’s good to be making plans for the future it is also important that as many people as possible get involved right now. The more popular solar energy becomes, the more viable it will become as a commercial project, the more research will be done into it and the lower prices will become to produce it. This, of course, will attract even more people. The future is looking bright for solar energy.