Power up with so­lar cells

A new crop of so­lar cells might well change the way we pro­duce en­ergy.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By TAN CHENG LI star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

IMAG­INE a back­pack that charges the lap­top in­side as you run be­tween meet­ing rooms, a brief­case that pow­ers your mo­bile phone, plas­tic cur­tains that power your com­puter, or an um­brella that pow­ers a ra­dio or a fan while you laze on the beach.

These ap­pli­ca­tions, which al­low peo­ple to pro­duce so­lar en­ergy wher­ever they are, are now pos­si­ble with the new gen­er­a­tion of or­ganic pho­to­voltaic technology which fea­tures so­lar cells that are light and flex­i­ble. Un­like rigid, bulky and heavy crys­talline sil­i­con-based so­lar cells (re­ferred to as first gen­er­a­tion so­lar technology), these cells are just thin sheets of plas­tic printed with pho­to­voltaic ma­te­rial. Made by Konarka Tech­nolo­gies in the United States, they are aptly called Power Plas­tic.

“Their low weight and flex­i­bil­ity give or­ganic pho­to­voltaic cells an edge over ex­ist­ing sil­i­con-based ones, en­abling them to be used in nu­mer­ous ap­pli­ca­tions, from mi­cro­elec­tron­ics to por­ta­ble power, re­mote power and build­ing-in­te­grated ap­pli­ca­tions,” says Kong Chock Heng, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of L2E So­lar, the Malaysian dis­trib­u­tor of Power Plas­tics.

At the heart of Power Plas­tic’s technology is a photo-re­ac­tive poly­mer ma­te­rial in­vented by Konarka co-founder Dr Alan Heeger, who won the No­bel Prize in chem­istry in 2000 for the dis­cov­ery and devel­op­ment of con­duc­tive poly­mer. This car­bon­based (hence the word “or­ganic” in the name) pho­to­voltaic ma­te­rial cap­tures both indoor and out­door light and con­verts it into di­rect cur­rent elec­tri­cal en­ergy which can be used im­me­di­ately, stored for later use, or con­verted to other forms.

Power Plas­tic com­prises sev­eral thin lay­ers: a photo-re­ac­tive printed layer, a trans­par­ent elec­trode layer, a plas­tic sub­strate and a pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing layer.

“The con­duc­tive poly­mer can be printed or coated onto flex­i­ble sub­strates us­ing roll-to-roll man­u­fac­tur­ing, sim­i­lar to the way news­pa­per is printed on large rolls of paper. This sim­pli­fies the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, thus low­er­ing costs. And be­cause it is con­ducted at low tem­per­a­tures, it is less en­ergy in­ten­sive than first or sec­ond gen­er­a­tion pho­to­voltaic tech­nolo­gies,” says Kong.

The pro­duc­tion also in­curs lower en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as it is made of car­bon-based poly­mer which is more en­vi­ron­ment-friendly than the photo-ac­tive ma­te­ri­als (such as amor­phous sil­i­con, cop­per indium gal­lium dis­e­lenide or cad­mium tel­luride) used on thin-film so­lar cells (sec­ond gen­er­a­tion so­lar technology).

Us­age of the or­ganic so­lar cells, how­ever, is cur­rently limited by its ef­fi­ciency – at 3%, it is way be­low the 12% to 20% of sil­i­con and thin­film so­lar cells. Re­search is on­go­ing to im­prove the prod­uct. An­other set­back is that prices re­main high – it costs twice as much as sil­i­con cells – as the prod­uct was com­mer­cialised only last year. But Kong be­lieves that the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the or­ganic so­lar cells give them an edge in nu­mer­ous ap­pli­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly as por­ta­ble and re­mote power sources. “You get the power where you are,” he says.

He is work­ing with man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­cor­po­rate Power Plas­tics into bags, back­packs, um­brel­las, out­door banners, roofs and canopies, in essence turn­ing these goods into en­ergy-pro­duc­ing de­vices.

Por­ta­ble power: Kong Chock Heng, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of L2E So­lar, totes a bag that has a so­lar cell at­tached to its front flap, turn­ing it into a

por­ta­ble bat­tery charger.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.