Carbon Trust backs plastic solar cell development

The Carbon Trust is launching a new company to develop and manufacture the world’s most efficient and low-cost plastic solar cells.

Spun-out from the Cambridge University-TTP Advanced Photovoltaic Research Accelerator, the venture called Eight19 – so called as it takes eight minutes and 19 seconds for light to travel from the sun to the earth – is being backed by a £4.5m investment from the Carbon Trust and global speciality chemicals company Rhodia.

The company has been created in partnership with plastic electronics expert Prof Sir Richard Friend and colleagues at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

Dr Robert Trezona, head of R&D at the Carbon Trust, said the ultimate aim for the company will be to achieve reel-to-reel printing of thin-film plastic solar cells at low cost. The film-like technology could be applied to glass and used to generate electricity from windows.

Trezona said the company will also be looking at increasing the efficiency of organic photovoltaic technology – as plastic solar energy cells are formally known – which currently stands at seven per cent. This is behind average efficiency rates of commercial silicon photovoltaic cells, which achieve approximately 12 per cent.

‘They will probably never be as efficient as polycrystalline silicon, but the reason we’re interested is the potential to make very low-cost cells and modules with this technology,’ he said.

Eight19’s backers claim the market for organic solar cells has the potential to reach $500m (£323m) by 2015 and grow fourfold to $2bn by 2020 driven by applications such as building-integrated photovoltaics. The company estimates this could save up to 900 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

Trezona, a board member of Eight19, said the company should be in position to launch a product by 2015.