British firm receives funding to develop low-cost solar cells

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A British firm hoping to produce the next generation of low-cost solar cells has received £1.4m to commercialise its technology.

Warwick University spin-out Molecular Solar is working with Imperial College London and several other firms to develop its version of solar cells, using materials similar to those found in organic LED television screens.

The company hopes that the flexibility and narrow dimensions of such cells could be used to develop new products, such as pen-sized mobile-phone chargers, light-up clothing and sun shades for car windows that power integral fans.

‘We’re trying to produce a solar technology that’s more affordable for people and has a wider range of applications,’ Peter Ballantyne, chairman of Molecular Solar, told The Engineer.

‘We’re going away from traditional semiconductor materials to organics. We’re using the same basic materials as OLEDs but we’re using the reverse process, producing electricity from light instead of light from electricity.’

Like other organic solar cells in development, these materials are formed from small molecules found in dyes and pigments. Putting two dissimilar materials together allows electrons excited by sunlight to be harvested to generate electric current.

Molecular Solar hopes to improve the generation efficiency of these materials from the current six per cent to 10 per cent — equivalent to flexible silicon technology.

‘We want to modify these materials to create something that can harvest the whole solar spectrum, including ultra-violet and infrared light,’ said Ballantyne.

The firm aims to bring costs down to $0.40 (£0.25) per watt of generating power, compared to $1 for flexible silicon, and ensure the materials are robust enough to prevent degradation by light, water or oxygen.

The Technology Strategy Board and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council provided the funding to Molecular Solar and its partners Kurt Lesker, Asylum Research and New World Solar.