New partnership looks at extending lifetime of plastic solar cells

The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) will explore the lifetime and stability of the organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices that make up the energy-harvesting layers of plastic solar cells.

Under the terms of the CRADA, NREL researchers will evaluate the lifetime of Solarmer’s high performance active layer systems. They will conduct the tests on NREL’s combinatorial degradation system, which compares the performance of up to 360 OPV devices in parallel under simulated solar conditions that accelerate the test results. NREL says that optimizing OPV cells’ durability will enhance the technology’s commercial future.

"Through this collaboration we hope to improve plastic solar cell performance and extend the cells’ lifetime through the development of stable device architectures and packaging systems," said NREL senior scientist Dana C. Olson, who is the principal investigator on the CRADA.

Organic photovoltaic (OPV) technologies, which include plastic solar cells, may one day cost a fraction of conventional silicon solar cells, says NREL, because they use less expensive materials. They also can be manufactured in high volumes through innovative processing methods, potentially bringing solar electricity in line with conventional electricity costs over time.

Specifically, research will focus on Solarmer’s high-performance active layer materials. The project will cover true lifetime results of materials and devices, a comparison of the materials, and an examination of degradation mechanisms. Both parties say they are confident that they also will find better encapsulation and packaging approaches, which will contribute to improving the lifetime of the plastic solar cells.

“I have no doubt that this venture will end in success with an established team like NREL’s working with us,” Solamer vice president of Engineering, Dr. Gang Li said.