Oct 07, 2019 Organic solar cells Organic solar cells Scientists are always looking for ways to make solar as efficient, accessible, and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Some of the most exciting research and development taking place in the industry today revolves around constructing thin, flexible solar options using organic solar cells. What are organic solar cells? Traditional crystalline solar cells are typically made of silicon. An organic solar cell uses carbon-based materials and organic electronics instead of silicon as a semiconductor to produce electricity from the sun. Organic cells are also sometimes referred to as “plastic solar cells” or “polymer solar cells.” One of the biggest differences between silicon photovoltaics and organic photovoltaics (OPV) is in their physical structure – organic cells are made with compounds that are typically dissolved in ink and printed onto thin plastics, which means that OPVs can be flexible and incorporated into more places or structures than crystalline photovoltaics. They can even be used to create solar power windows. While organic photovoltaics are an exciting new technology, there’s a long way to go before they can match the efficiencies already reached in silicon-based solar cells. However, given the wide range of potential applications for OPVs, it might not be long before they are a commonly used technology for generating solar energy. Additionally, organic cells are cheap to produce and physically versatile, meaning once performance can be refined, organic solar products may be able to compete with traditional crystalline cells. How do organic solar cells work? Just like monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cells, organic solar cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. A photovoltaic cell turns sunlight into usable electricity in three simplified steps: Light is absorbed and knocks electrons loose from a semiconducting material Loose electrons flow and create an electrical current The current is captured and transferred to wires In an organic solar cell, the photovoltaic process is the same, but carbon-based compounds are used instead of silicon as the semiconducting material. Efficiency A solar cell’s efficiency measures what percentage of incoming sunlight that hits the solar cell is converted to electricity. According to the Department of Energy, organic solar cells have exhibited efficiencies topping out near 11 percent (though some recent experiments have pushed that number several percentage points higher in controlled situations). The most efficient crystalline silicon solar panels available today have efficiencies upwards of 22 percent. OPVs still have a way to go before they can compete with silicon-based solar cells in terms of efficiency alone.