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Organic Photovoltaic Solar Cells: A New Graphene-Based, Flexible Kind of Cell

A flow of methane and hydrogen gas mixture deposits carbon atoms as graphene on a nickel plate. The graphene later is then transferred to a plastic sheet, which is then incorporated into an organic photo voltaic (OPV) cell.

A team of researchers from the University of Southern California has published a paper in the most recent journal ACS Nano, revealing a new approach to solar cells. Specifically, they combined graphene, one of the most recent and studied materials discovered, and organic (Graetzel) solar cells. Their project has produced organic photovoltaic cells (OPV).

“Organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells have been proposed as a means to achieve low cost energy due to their ease of manufacture, light weight, and compatibility with flexible substrates,” wrote Chongwu Zhou, a professor of electrical engineering in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Using a graphene substrate printed on a thermo plastic, they succeeded to make solar cells more flexible than those based on Indium-Tin-Oxide. The reduced efficiency is compensated by the low price and ease of manufacturing.  For example, the power provided by sunlight on a sunny day is about 1000 watts per meter square.

“For every 1000 watts of sunlight that hits a one square meter area of the standard silicon solar cell, 14 watts of electricity will be generated,” says Lewis Gomez De Arco, a doctoral student and a member of the team that built the graphene OPVs. “Organic solar cells are less efficient; their conversion rate for that same one thousand watts of sunlight in the graphene-based solar cell would be only 1.3 watts.”

The researchers envision the cells being used in power generating clothes, cheap on-the-go energy solutions: “They could be hung as curtains in homes or even made into fabric and be worn as power generating clothing. I can imagine people powering their cellular phone or music/video device while jogging in the sun,” said De Arco.

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