With a swelling global population and industrialization on the rise, our species’ voracious appetite for energy has reached unprecedented levels. In fact, it’s been estimated that since commercial oil drilling began in the 1850s, we have drained more than 135 billion tonnes of crude oil to fuel our home and industries. Not only are fossil fuels detrimental to the environment, they’re also quickly depleting.
How can humanity sustain itself?
One solution is to increase investment in renewable energy sources, such as solar power. Solar technology has come a long way since its early development—and it looks like it’ll remain the renewable energy source of the future thanks to organic photovoltaics systems. Here’s why.
Introducing the next generation of solar power
For thousands of years, humans have harnessed the power of sun to heat their homes, cook, and produce hot water. However, modern solar energy wasn’t invented until 1954, when Bell Labs discovered how to make a photovoltaic material using silicon.
This discovery led to developments in photovoltaic (PV) systems: systems that converts light into electricity using solar cells. These solar cells are usually made from silicon, which acts as a semiconductor. Although silicon solar cells are a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, conventional solar cells contain toxic materials that form part of the electrodes.
As an alternative, researchers have discovered non-toxic organic solar cells that will form the basis of next-generation solar power, such as solar cells made from bismuth, also known as the “green element” that’s widely used in cosmetics, personal care products and medicines. Another non-toxic alternative to solar cells are carbon-based photovoltaic devices, using materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.
One of the benefits of organic solar PV systems is that they can be created from a variety of natural materials, allowing for numerous possibilities. Below are three additional benefits of organic solar cells.
1. More efficient
While organic solar cells are still in their early stages of development, they have already shown to be more efficient than silicon solar cells alone. For starters, organic solar cells, in general, take less energy to make. These materials also don’t require the protective shield of glass like silicon cells do. As well, they can be easily massed produced using roll-to-roll printing.
In fact, Konkaraka has developed organic solar cells that can be manufactured using highly efficient ink-jet printing, which does not require the clean room processes needed for producing silicon cells.
Hybrid organic and inorganic solar cells have also proven to be more efficient than traditional silicon cells. For instance, researchers from Stanford University have also recently discovered that “tandem” solar cells, which layer a perovskite on top of traditional silicon, are 10 percent more efficient than silicon cells alone.
2. More flexible
Organic solar cells are lightweight. This also makes them easier to transport, including remote regions with no central power grid.
Not only are they lightweight, new organic solar cells are also flexible transparent and can adapt to a variety of irregular surfaces. This allows for a variety of applications that cannot be realized with conventional solar cells, such as sunglasses with semi-transparent solar cells that supply a microprocessor and two displays with electricity.
A 2017 MIT Energy Initiative article described the latest developments in solar cells made from low-cost organic (carbon-containing) materials with electrodes of graphene. These flexible and transparent solar cells can be deposited on any surfaces—enabling a wide use for consumer electronic products, such as cell phones and laptops. These solar cells can drastically reduce manufacturing costs because it can be fabricated directly onto electronics, instead of having them made separately and then installed.
3. More environmentally friendly
Not only are they non-toxic, organic solar cells such as those that are carbon-based are also renewable. According to Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering from MIT, these solar cells come from renewable sources and are more easily recycled. For instance, organic solar cells are made of polymers that are most commonly plastic, and can be assembled using existing polymer processing technology. This makes them not only cheap to produce, but their efficiency is half of inorganics at 13.1 percent.
In contrast, “Mining the necessary chemicals for a conventional solar cell is often a destructive process and substantially increases the device's environmental impact throughout its life cycle.”
A bright future
The future is near and organic photovoltaics (PV) systems are the future of energy. Although they are currently in their early stages of development, they will soon dominate the solar industry, allowing for a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.
What more can you do?
In addition to installing the latest solar panels for your home, you can also learn more about renewable energy through online learning. For those who are interested in a career in renewable energy, you can start by understanding ins and outs of electronics and circuits through taking online electronic technician training. Some online courses even offer an electronics technician certificate to help you establish credibility. And even if you don’t choose this career path, renewable energy will continue to impact all industries.