Solarmer Energy Inc.’s newest organic photovoltaics have set the efficiency record for OPVs at 9.31 percent. While it’s a far cry from the 20 percent module efficiency levels some silicon PV manufacturers are reaching, it’s a big step forward for the technology, which uses organic compounds to convert sun into electricity rather than silicon and other metallic semiconductors.
The breakthrough came about thanks to the collaboration between Solarmer’s materials development team, Phillips 66 Technology’s Alternative Energy group led by Dr. Ting He and South China University of Technology’s (SCUT’s) research group under Professor Hongbin Wu. “Solarmer and Philips66 have had a joint development project for about two years now. Solarmer’s collaboration with SCUT started about 6 months ago,” said Vishal Shrotriya, Solarmer Energy’s vice president of Strategic Market Development.
The OPV champion cell was certified by the Newport Technology & Application Center’s Photovoltaic Lab in Long Beach, Calif., according to Phillips 66. The champion cell and Solarmer’s roadmap to 10 percent efficiency put the company well on its path to commercialization, which should come soon. “Solarmer intends to launch first OPV products in 2013,” Shrotriya said.
The companies attributed the breakthrough in efficiency to two factors: a new polymer jointly developed by Solarmer and Phillips 66 and an interface technology developed at SCUT’s Polymer Optoelectronic Materials and Devices division. The interface interface also allows roll-to-roll printing, one of the key advantages of OPV over silicon PV, that it can basically be printed with a type of solar inkjet.
However, it has a much shorter lifespan than silicon PV. “Solarmer’s first generation OPV modules are expected to have a lifetime of 3 or more years. This is expected to improve to 7 to 10 years by 2015,” Shrotriya said.
At least in the short term, such solar modules wouldn’t be ideal for commercial solar installations. “Solarmer is targeting portable power as the first application for is OPV modules,” Shrotriya said. But in coming years, as the technology lasts longer, it could be used for other purposes, like off-grid flexible applications and as building-integrated photovoltaics in the farther future.