Plastic Solar Cell to Power Flexible Electronics


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If you picture a solar panel, it’s most likely dark blue or black, and rigid and flat. Now imagine one that’s semitransparent, ultra-thin and bendable. Scientists are closing in on making the latter version a reality. They report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces the development of a see-through, bendable solar cell made entirely out of plastic. The device could help power the coming wave of flexible electronics.

Most solar cells you see on rooftops or in large power-plant arrays are made of relatively heavy and stiff materials. But this version doesn’t lend itself to small or flexible electronics. So Yinhua Zhou and colleagues are investigating lighter-weight plastics to see if they can come up with a better way to address this need for a sustainable energy source for future gadgets.

The researchers built a solar cell by applying a conductive polymer film to a plastic surface and treating it with phosphoric acid to enhance the rate at which an electric current can pass through it. Their tiny, 10-square-millimeter (0.015-square-inch), all-plastic cell reached a voltage of 0.84 volts (a typical AAA battery produces 1.5 volts). 

The authors acknowledge funding from the Recruitment Program of Global Youth Experts, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, the Postdoctoral Science Foundation of China and the Open Foundation of Hubei Key Laboratory of Low Dimensional Optoelectronic Materials and Devices.

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