Polymer solar power

Solarmer Energy is developing plastic solar cells for portable electronic devices that will incorporate technology invented at the University of Chicago.

El Monte, California-based Solarmer Energy is developing plastic solar cells for portable electronic devices that will incorporate technology invented at the University of Chicago.

The company is on track to complete a commercial-grade prototype later this year, said Dina Lozofsky, vice-president of IP development and strategic alliances at Solarmer.

The prototype, a cell measuring 50cm2, is expected to achieve 8 per cent efficiency and to have a lifetime of at least three years.

Other companies’ products in the industry are in the 5 to 6 per cent range, says Lozofsky.

The plastic solar cells are based on a semiconducting material called PTB1, developed by Professor Luping Yu and Yongye Liang, a PhD student, who are both at the University of Chicago.

The university licensed the patent rights to the technology to Solarmer last September.

The licence covers several polymers under development in Yu’s laboratory, said Matthew Martin, a project manager at UChicagoTech, the university’s Office of Technology and Intellectual Property.

An advantage of the Chicago technology is its simplicity.

Several laboratories have invented polymers that have achieved efficiencies similar to those of Yu’s polymers, but these require far more extensive engineering before they could become commercially viable.

University of Chicago chemists Luping Yu (right) and Yongye Liang display a new material they synthesised called PTB1