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Chandross on organic solar cells

04 July 2011 - Reality check

In this weeks journal Science Edwin A. Chandross (co-inventor of the light stick) is commenting on a news analysis by staff writer Robert Service on organic solar cells in an April issue of the same journal (Link). Service interviewed several specialists for the report and observes that solar cell efficiency has increased from 3 to 9% in the last two years (commercial inorganic cells do 15 to 20%). Compared to organic cells, inorganic cells suffer from global metal scarcity and inorganic cells require expensive clean-room technology. Several companies are in the process of launching commercial products, one of them Heliatek (www.heliatek.com) and hence the happy headline: Outlook Brightens for Plastic Solar Cells.

But Chandross, a veteran of Bell Laboratories where the photovoltaic cell was invented, is not impressed. He calculates that recharging a cellphone at midday in Phoenix (sunniest place in the US) would require more than one hour with 30 by 45 cm of industrial organic solar cell. He also doubts if the organic cells are as resistant to oxidation as the inorganic ones considering that these cells should last up to 30 years and hence the somewhat grumpy headline Not-So-Sunny Outlook for Organic Photovoltaics.