Liquid crystals could cut cost for solar panels

The discovery of nematic liquid crystals means that consumers can look forward to more competitive pricing in the solar energy sector. (Credit: Thomas Laureyssens/Flickr)

Lack of performance has made it difficult for organic solar cells to compete with silicon-based products. However, the discovery of a new liquid crystal material could change that.

The “nematic liquid crystals” dramatically improve the performance of organic solar cells and make them easier to manufacture.

“We have improved the performance of this type of solar cell from around 8 percent efficient to 9.3 percent, finally approaching the international benchmark of 10 percent,” says David Jones of the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry.

It means that consumers can look forward to more competitive pricing in the solar energy sector. The discovery is a shot-in-the-arm for the whole organic materials sector, according to Jones.

“The discovery is a step forward for the wider commercialization of printed organic solar cells. But more than this, could aid in the development of new materials with improved performance such as LCD screens.”

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Uptake of the current generation of organic solar cells has lagged behind more widespread silicon-based models due to their comparative lack of performance even with a simplified construction via large printers.

This is despite the organic models providing an unparalleled degree of versatility in how they are used; they can be shaped to fit nearly any surface area, as opposed to the traditional “grid” formation of silicon-based cells.

“We’ve seen recently at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that printable electronics have an exciting future, as parts of phones and even cars. This discovery could help improve the performance of these solar cells, and lead to even more innovation in the coming years,” says Jones.

The research, published in Nature Communications, was conducted with international researchers in Singapore, China, and Germany and funded by the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium and the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics.

Source: University of Melbourne