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Discovery

Cheaper Plastic Solar Cells in the Works

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Illustration depicting the relative sizes of the sun and Earth.

This illustration shows the relative sizes of the sun and Earth.

Credit: NASA


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Illustration of the three-step process for an organic device to convert sunlight to electricity.

The above is a schematic of an organic, or carbon-based, device for converting sunlight to electricity. Steps in the process include: (1) Photons carried in sunlight excite negatively charged electrons, depicted by circles with a negative sign, in the upper layer of the device; (2) The excited electrons move to the bottom layer of the device leaving behind positive charges called "holes," depicted by circles with a plus, that migrate to the top layer of the device; and (3) Electrons flow out of the device to an external system, thereby generating electricity.

Credit: Seth Darling, Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory


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Illustration of a proposed device for converting solar energy, or sunlight, to electricity.

Above is a proposed device for converting solar energy, or sunlight, to electricity more efficiently and cheaply than current solar conversion devices. The nano-sized organic, or carbon-based, device consists of polymers of organoboranes, which are a class of compounds made from carbon, boron and hydrogen, and thiophene, a carbon-based cyclical molecule that includes one sulfur atom. Each of the polymer components will also be designed to absorb different wavelengths of sunlight, thereby harvesting a greater percentage of total sunlight.

Credit: Seth Darling, Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory


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Photo of Diane Hinkens in a "clean room".

Diane Hinkens is currently a postdoctoral research associate in the department of electrical engineering at South Dakota State University. Here, she is in a "clean room" where the environment is kept pristine to prevent damage to solar cells during their fabrication.

Credit: Qiquan Qiao, South Dakota State University


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