Organic Solar Cell Breakthrough

Wayne Campbell

Solar cell technology developed by the Massey University’s Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells.

Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.

The synthetic dyes are made from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature. The green dye Dr Campbell (pictured) is synthetic chlorophyll derived from the light-harvesting pigment plants use for photosynthesis.

Other dyes being tested in the cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that give blood its colour.

Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions – making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.

He says the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide – a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand’s black sand. Titanium dioxide is already used in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.

“The refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions,” Dr Campbell says.

“The expected cost is one 10th of the price of a silicon-based solar panel, making them more attractive and accessible to home-owners.”

The Centre’s new director, Professor Ashton Partridge, says they now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world and aim to optimise and improve the cell construction and performance before developing the cells commercially.

“The next step is to take these dyes and incorporate them into roofing materials or wall panels. We have had many expressions of interest from New Zealand companies,” Professor Partridge says.

He says the ultimate aim of using nanotechnology to develop a better solar cell is to convert as much sunlight to electricity as possible.

“The energy that reaches earth from sunlight in one hour is more than that used by all human activities in one year”.

The solar cells are the product of more than 10 years research funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

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36 thoughts on “Organic Solar Cell Breakthrough

  1. isnt this “rubbish”
    no details-no process- no stat’s
    and why are they using the whitest material on the palnet to make “green ” dyes

    blah blah

  2. Arthur: only the cells are made from titanium oxide, the dye is not.

    Titanium oxide is used because it absorbs a large portion of the solar spectrum, and the dye is then injected into the cells to further improve that absorption.

    These cells will have a lower efficiency, but be much cheaper, in the long run you get a net gain because you can built ten times more of it for the same price. See here for a pretty good article with more “details, process, and stats” (http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=2130)

    While I do think this is an important step forward I will reserve judgement on weather its great or rubbish until i see some commercial applications. What I do think is that this might provide a way towards cheaper solar cells for the masses, which is in fact GREAT!

  3. If this works it makes solar by far the cheapest energy generating technology in the game and totally legitimizes the basic concepts of the hydrogen economy (or, possibly, some kind of battery other than hydrogen.)

    You could run cars on solar at these prices, decarbonize the economy at a massive profit…

    Oh yes, compadres, this and things like it is the way things get done – get a few factor 10 improvements in basic processes like energy harvest and off we go :-)

  4. It has become obvious to the big money managers that solar energy offers the most spectacular returns for their investments, besides being the best for the planet. Witness the support for Nanosolar Company. This new developement, that of dye based cells built on a titanium oxide platform, is also ideally suited for continuous run production; i.e. printed solar cells instead of batch manufactured. The gains in the manufacturing process alone will justify the work to be done in its commercial development. These type cells will totally revolutionize areas of the world, both economically and politically, where central power is not now readily available.

  5. How is titanium “renewable”? It is a mineral, it is mined. Bulldozers through forests and big holes in the ground. Don’t get me wrong, I think solar power is great, but life-cycle analysis is important for any technology. And calling a mineral renewable is just bollocks guys, and does nothing for your credibility.

  6. Well Titanium Dioxide happens to be readily availible.
    And TiO2 is it’s natural state. No refining neccisary.

  7. would nonodiamond material change the structure of the oxide to a more dense and multiple pore size?

  8. Vinay Gupta wrote:
    “You could run cars on solar at these prices, decarbonize the economy at a massive profit…”

    It wouldn’t be quite that simple. We have a massive section of the economy dependent on using easily transportable, combustable liquid fuel. For example, converting the transport industries to run on electricity generated by solar or other means, such as hydrogen cells, would require massive amounts of energy/capital. It would also generate a lot of opposition from groups with vested interests.

  9. All these posts are rubbish. If you had an idea, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. By the way, and I am writing slowly, cause I know that some folks don’t read that fast. Hemoglobin and Chlorophyll are the same molecule except for the central atom. Anybody know the difference out of you geniuses?

  10. Um.
    Jim: Hemoglobin is a protein. Chlorophyll is a chemical. They are not the same type of beast. Hemoglobin contains a Heme structure, which is similar to the heme-like structure in chlorophyll, but there are more differences than just the Magnesium versus Iron atom at the center. Maybe you need to type slower and think faster ;)

    GreyFlcn: No, titanium is of course not renewable, but it is not rare either. Unfortumately the native Ti02 is not taken as is from the ground, it is first converted to a highly reactive Titanium tetrachloride and then converted back to the oxide as part of the purification process. The titanium tetrachloride is a unhappy molecule which spits out hydrochloride acid when it contacts moist air – the plants that produce the oxide do occasionally blow up and hurt people.
    The good news is I don’t know of a lot of toxic by-products produced in the whole process.

  11. Nosha,

    Sorry for the tone. It was not directed at you. :) Proteins are chemicals also. If you really want to split hairs they are both proteinaceous chelates or pro-enzymes if you prefer. Doesn’t really matter about the terminology or the minor difference in molecular structure either. What does matter is efficientcy of energy transfer and stability at higher temperatures. Hemoglobin denatures more readily a higher temps. Chlorophyll takes evolutionary presidence and is more efficient at energy transfer, being an electron pump as opposed to a proton transfer mechanism. I was just pointing out the amazing similarities as my biology professor did, not the minor differences. Maybe I should not write at all and just draw pictures. We should be spending our time working on fusion anyway. Chemical processes for energy are like stone knives and bear skins.

  12. By the way flint stone knives are a lot sharper than any surgical steel and a lot easier to disinfect and keep sterile – that being the reason why nowadays some surgeons in fact start using flint stone blades again…
    … and leather clothing isn’t that bad…
    Stone knives and bear skins are “hatural high tech” stuff highly refined over millions of years of evolution – maybe a bit like solar power harnessing via chlorophyll.

  13. As hemoglobin is a protein, it should be possible to synthesize it from all kind of foods we use as nourishment, cause our bodies does the same. Our organism is able to create hemoglobin from a burger or the like…

    If in far future titanium dioxide became rare, why not self-synthesizing it with our own bodies? Anybody an idea how much this woukd cost?

  14. error: plz replace “it” with “hemoglobin as titanium replacement” in my last post.

    btw: this should be done via small parts of our own dna. the enzyms are capable of forging proteins, if supplied with the proper enviroment, like sugar, water and some trace elements.

  15. These posts are old, however, is there someone reading these in 2008? Using Titanium Dioxide might be readily available and not require refining, BUT it still has to be extracted from the earth.

    Is any person, University or Company researching the use of recycled garbage for solar cell components? This is a renewable resource and grows daily. It is available worldwide. Eventually future supplies (if garbage production goes down) can be retrieved from old land fills. Look around, there are building being demolished, there are old plane, boats, cars sitting in graveyards, tires with steel belts littering the world, plastics, tin, electronics, batteries, appliances, carpets, clothing, ceramics, wood, roofing, everything made over the past 200 years of development that has become obsolete is sitting somewhere piling up.

    All this old junk and garbage came from earths natural materials. Time to reuse it. Maybe, it is considered too expensive to recycle it. THAT thinking comes from the older generation. Get out of the box, give it some real thought to turn old thoughts around and I believe you will find the solutions to cost and usages.

    When our science and technology industry develops to a point that it stops looking for new ways to rape the earth of its natural materials, and reuse that which has already been extracted in some form or another, then the world can celebrate. Until then, this is just another name or oil and coal and it is still too expensive.

    According to the little I read, one has to use 10 times as many cells so it costs 10 times less. DUH! same price.

    Show me a site where Science and Technology has a different mindset. One that really wants to develop something new and exciting that is as readily available and affordable to everyone around the world.

  16. Hi Vinay/Arthur,

    I am looking for Solar power for my house, so probably i will go for DSSC, Can you help in doing so?
    I want to know the complete procedure.
    Thanks a lot.

  17. hi.im just wondering, is there any other substitute to titanium dioxide?a cheaper source, or economical as they say.? can you explain it to me further?

    thankyou.

    tine.

  18. Solar in desert regions makes sense, but northern Canada must rely on Wind, denser wind due to lower temperatures, but wind none the less! Solar will eventually triumph in the south if greed doesn’t make Nuclear the way to go! Fast and powerful counts, especially in the U.S.A. and they have the finances that control our world, so far, but I’m an ardent China Watcher too, and things may change soon!

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