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Cash boosts polymer solar cells

24 Jul 2002

A UK government grant aids the development of cheap, efficient polymer solar cells.

UK-based Cambridge Display Technology (CDT), renowned for pioneering light emission from conjugated polymers, has won a EURO 475 000 grant to develop polymer-based solar cells.

Awarded under the UK's Department of Trade and Industry's renewable energy program, the company will use the cash to increase the efficiency of its polymer devices towards that of its silicon-based rivals.

"The efficiencies that we can get are typically 2 to 3.5 %, whereas silicon technologies are upwards of 5%," said Karl Heeks, who is leading the polymer solar cell program at CDT. "Over the next two years, we will be building our technology platform to raise [our device efficiency] up to 5%."

According to Heeks, CDT will change the composition of its polymers and blend them together to modify the material's performance. This, it is hoped, will modify the device architecture and lead to more efficient devices.

A major benefit of the technology is its compatibility with plastic substrates. Heeks says that in the future CDT hopes to use roll-to-roll manufacture techniques for polymer solar cells, which would make them cheaper than silicon-based devices.

"At this stage we cannot predict what the cost saving will be, but it will be significant," said Heeks. "The technology is still very immature. But if we can manufacture on a roll-to-roll basis all you need is a plastic substrate, then spray down the polymer, add some electrodes and encapsulate the device."

During this project, Heeks says the company's aim is to develop the technology rather than the manufacturing process. CDT will then look at manufacturing and targeting suitable applications.

"In the case of displays, CDT's basic model has been one of licensing technology and building supply chains," says Heeks. "I think we will adopt this model in the case of photovoltaics. We would look to license this technology to volume manufacturers to make the devices."

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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