Solar Energy Cells Out of Everyday Plastic

Poto: A couple of platsik mugs

In research, UCLA engineering professor Yang Yang and colleagues from the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science showcase their work on an innovative new plastic solar cell they hope eventually can be produced at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent of the current cost of traditional cells, making the technology more widely available.

The price for quality traditional solar modules typically is around three to four times more expensive than fossil fuel. While prices have dropped since the early 1980s, the solar module itself still represents nearly half of the total installed cost of a traditional solar energy system.

Currently, nearly 90 percent of solar cells in the world are made from a refined, highly purified form of silicon - the same material used in manufacturing integrated circuits and computer chips. High demand from the computer industry has sharply reduced the availability of quality silicon, resulting in prohibitively high costs that rule out solar energy as an option for the average consumer.

Made of a single layer of plastic sandwiched between two conductive electrodes, UCLA's solar cell is easy to mass-produce and costs much less to make-- roughly one-third of the cost of traditional silicon solar technology. The polymers used in its construction are commercially available in such large quantities that Yang hopes cost-conscious consumers worldwide will quickly adopt the technology.

Independent tests on the UCLA solar cell already have received high marks. According to Yang, the 4.4 percent efficiency achieved by UCLA is the highest number yet published for plastic solar cells.; Source: University of California - Los Angeles