Thin film dye-sensitized solar cells

Edit Hook

“Konarka Power Plastic is a photovoltaic material that captures both indoor and outdoor light and converts it into direct current (DC) electrical energy. This energy can be used immediately, stored for later use, or converted to other forms. Power Plastic can be applied to a limitless number of potential applications – from microelectronics to portable power, remote power and building-integrated applications.” (from company website)

Key Differentiators

“Crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) technology was first developed more than 50 years ago at Bell Labs in New Jersey based on silicon wafers, and is known as 1st generation solar technology…There are several inherent limitations to this 1st generation, however. Silicon wafers are fragile, making processing difficult and limiting potential applications. The process is very labor and energy intensive and manufacturing plant capital costs are high, limiting scale-up potential. And because materials represent more than 60% of manufacturing costs and silicon supply is finite, the long term potential for cost reduction is insufficient to deliver broadly affordable energy.” (from company website)

Biomimicry Story

In nature, when a high-energy photon from sunlight hits a green leaf, algae, or photosynthetic bacterium, it strikes special pigmented chlorophyll molecules within chloroplasts. In response to this high energy surge, the chlorophyll molecule spontaneously releases an electron. The now positively charged chlorophyll molecule becomes unstable and desperately seeks to take the electron back to regain its stable, neutral charge. However, that electron is no longer available because it was immediately snatched up by other molecules along an electron transport chain. So chlorophyll snatches an electron from a readily available water molecule. A continuous influx of photons generates a continuous flow of electrons along the electron transport chain. In 1991, scientists made a breakthrough in mimicking this electric power generating function by developing the dye-sensitized solar cell. Dr. Michael Grätzel and Dr. Brian O’Reagan of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne developed a system that uses a ruthenium dye compound in place of green chlorophyll. The dye, coupled with a titanium dioxide matrix, a conducting solution, and electrodes, mimics the electron transport chain. Konarka Technologies was founded in 2001 after a team of world-class scientists developed a low-cost, low-temperature, high-speed means of fabricating flexible, plastic, nanocrystalline solar cells. In 2002, the company acquired the license for Graetzel’s dye-sensitized solar cells, and has since been working to improve the technology for a wide array of applications including lighting, sensing, communications, and computing.

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