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Organic Photovoltaic Materials Charge up Portable Electronics
Over the last decade, portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, mp3 players, PDAs andlaptop computers have proliferated at a spectacular rate. Compact rechargeable batteries havebeen fundamental to the success of these products. So have increasingly powerful microchips,whose capacity has continued to observe the exponential growth described by Moore’s Law.Unfortunately, the energy density of batteries has not.Clever engineers have been able to maintain an acceptable time between charges by usingpower management software, new power-management chips, and more energy-efficientcomponents, but such tweaks can only achieve so much. If portable electronics are to becomestill more powerful, consumers will either have to plug into the grid more often, or productdesigners will have to enable access to a more convenient source of energy.And what could be more accessible than light? Efficient solar cells, drawing on sunlight or evenartificial light, could extend the time between charges, perhaps even indefinitely.The idea isn’t new. Solar powered calculators have been available for decades. They requirelittle power, however, and energy hogs like mobile phones present a more difficult problem.An emerging technology, thin-film organic photovoltaics (OPVs) and dye-sensitized cells (DSCs)may be the solution. A host of companies is busily developing materials and intellectualproperty to establish themselves in this new market, from chemical giants such as BASF to highlyfocused start-ups such as Konarka and Plextronics.
Organic Photovoltaic Markets,
a recent study by NanoMarkets, looks at the activities of theseand many other companies to estimate the opportunity represented by these technologies.
Cheap, flexible and responsive
Scientists have known since 1906 that organic materials can turn light into electricity, but itwasn’t until the 1950s that researchers began using common organic dyes such as chlorophylland methylene blue in photovoltaic devices. In the 1980s, work with polymers such aspoly(sulfur nitride) began, and by 1986, a scientist at Eastman Kodak had made thebreakthrough discovery that combining donor and acceptor materials in a single celldramatically improved efficiency.In the last two decades, new materials and more sophisticated architectures have advancedOPVs to the point that efficiencies exceeding 6 percent have been achieved, and 8-10 percent islikely within the next few years. Even more efficient are DSCs, hybrids that combine