Flexible substrates offer cost-efficient alternatives for photovoltaics

SEMICON West preview: Organic PV is closing in on c-Si in terms of efficiency, stability, and cost, leading the charge of flexible substrates to reduce the cost/Watt of solar energy and improve lifetime performance of photovoltaics.

by Denise Rael, FlexTech Alliance

June 22, 2011 – Organic photovoltaic cells (OPV) are finally becoming competitive with crystalline silicon modules in terms of efficiency, stability, and cost.

Over the last few years, efficiency of OPVs have gone from 1%-2% to about 9%. Recently, a project funded by FlexTech Alliance helped boost efficiency to nearly 12% using high-efficiency donor polymer materials developed by Solarmer Energy Inc.. This project builds upon previous designs to synthesize a new active layer material in polymer solar cells that delivers improved properties such as low bandgap, appropriate molecular energy levels, good mobility, and excellent processability.

Other types of flexible substrates also have the potential to reduce the cost/Watt of solar energy and improve lifetime performance of photovoltaics. For instance, under a grant from FlexTech Alliance to develop commercially viable methods for continuous printed electronic manufacturing, Corning Inc. has developed a flexible glass substrate. Flexible glass offers the smoothness, barrier properties, heat tolerance, and minimal distortion under stress needed to create stable photovoltaic products that can be manufactured in a roll-to-roll process.

Manufacturing costs of flexible solar cells may soon be further reduced by means of a high-speed atomic layer deposition (ALD) system under development at Cambridge NanoTech. ALD is an ideal coating technology because of its perfect, conformal, ultra-thin films that are scalable to large-area substrates. FlexTech Alliance awarded a contract to Cambridge NanoTech to develop a system that, when completed, will enable the manufacturing of large-area and flexible substrates for use in organic electronics, solar cells, biomedical devices and displays.

Vast improvements made by companies such as Solarmer Energy are approaching the sub-$0.50/Watt level needed to outperform traditional power production on a financial basis and trigger true economies-of-scale in solar manufacturing. The FlexTech Alliance is pleased to create a forum to present these breakthroughs.

These latest developments in printed electronics materials, tools and processes, including LED lighting and printed memory, will be discussed and demonstrated at the Extreme Electronics TechXpot session “Printed electronics: Beyond R&D to real-deal technologies,” presented by the FlexTech Alliance at SEMICON West, July 14, 2011. At this session, Solarmer Energy will present “Innovations in Solar: Driving Down the Cost of Flexible PV Panels”. For more information about FlexTech Alliance visit www.flextech.org.

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