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Can Organics Replace Silicon in PV?

Photosynthesis is one approach to photovoltaics

4 min read

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) estimates that soldiers on a typical desert reconnaissance mission could cut their battery load in half by carrying portable photovoltaic cells and recharging them from the sun. Seeking solar chargers suitable for a backpack, military researchers are turning away from the inorganic semiconductors, like silicon, that rule the solar market to organic photovoltaics (PV) composed of carbon-based dyes and polymers. Organic materials could even displace the thin films expected until recently to provide PV's next generation.

Organic photovoltaics fit the bill because they weigh next to nothing, bend without breaking, and are showing rapidly improving efficiencies. Although their ability to convert photons into electricity must improve still more, the vision of solar plastics is moving rapidly toward realization, thanks to an R and D investment by the U.S. Department of Defense. "We're starting to make prototype devices to try out in the field," says Lynne Samuelson, who leads an organic PV research program at the U.S. Army's Natick Soldier Center, in Massachusetts.

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Greg Mably


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