Super Light Photovoltaic Cells Floating In A Soap Bubble

© 2020 KAUST; Anastasia serin

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology continues to advance solar thin film with solar inkjet printing.

The printed organic photovoltaic cells achieve an efficiency of 4.73%.

Super light, thin and flexible photovoltaic cells that can even “float” on the surface of a soap bubble. This is how we see in the incredible photograph of the King Abdullah University (KAUST) team, who are working on the new generation of solar organic thin film.

The work, led by Derya Baran, aims to create a new power source for electronic devices in which the use of traditional batteries is limited, such as medical biosensors and new robotic skins.

Rather than large batteries or a connection to a power grid, we thought of using ultra-thin, lightweight organic solar cells to collect the energy from light, both indoors and outdoors.

Eloïse Bihar.

Until yesterday, these units were manufactured with spiral coating or thermal evaporation, technologies that are not scalable and that limit the geometry of the device. This technology involves the use of a transparent, conductive but brittle and inflexible material called indium tin oxide (RO) as the electrode. To overcome these limitations, the team used inkjet printing.

© 2020 KAUST; Anastasia serin

We formulate functional inks for each layer of the solar cell architecture.

Daniel Corzo.

One of the great innovations added by the KAUST team is the ITO replacement. To make the new photovoltaic cells superlight, the team printed a transparent, flexible, and conductive polymer called PEDOT: PSS, or polystyrene sulfonate (3,4ethylenedioxyoxythiophene). And again through the printer he has inserted a layer of organic photovoltaic material (P3HT: O-IDTBR) that captures light and a layer of zinc oxide, sealing the unit with parylene, a flexible, waterproof and biocompatible protective layer.

Inkjet printing is a science unto itself. The intermolecular forces within the cartridge and the ink have to be overcome to eject very fine droplets from an extremely small nozzle. Solvents also play an important role once the ink has set, because the drying behavior affects the quality of the film.

Daniel Corzo.

After optimizing the ink composition for each layer of the device, the superlight photovoltaic cells were printed on glass to test their performance. They achieved a conversion efficiency of 4.73%, beating the previous record of 4.1% for a fully printed organic cell.

Our results mark a step forward for a new generation of versatile, ultra-light and printed solar cells that will be used as a power source or integrated into implantable medical devices.

Eloïse Bihar.

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