Most photovoltaic cells have been built using crystalline silicon, which requires expensive processing. While costs for such panels have come down in recent years, the industry has been looking for a breakthrough that will enable solar power to be price-competitive with other forms of energy. Konarka has provided that breakthrough by developing photovoltaic cells on lower-cost, flexible, lightweight plastics rather than on glass or silicon.
Konarka scientists work on the nano scale using materials 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair to inject a dye into titanium dioxide, a white pigment commonly used in toothpaste and paint. The dye functions like an antenna, absorbing energy from both the sun and indoor light. The energy travels through the titanium dioxide and a series of electrodes and is converted into direct current (DC) electrical energy.
Konarkas products put light in and get current out with improved efficiency.
Because Konarkas technology can utilize a wider range of the light spectrum than conventional solar cells, all visible light sources, not just sunlight, can be used to generate power.
Most solar cells currently in use are so-called "first generation" devices based on crystalline silicon wafers. "Second generation", or thin film solar cells, use semiconductor materials only a few micrometers thick. The performance of a solar cell is measured in terms of its efficiency at turning light into electricity. The efficiencies for first generation cells have been around 15 percent; that is, about one-sixth of the light striking the cell gets converted into electricity. The efficiencies for second generation products that are being manufactured today range from three to seven percent.
Konarka is focused on the development and commercialization of "third generation" cells that are lightweight, flexible and more versatile than previous generations of products. Konarkas chemistry-based cells represent a new breed of coatable, plastic, flexible photovoltaics that can be used in many applications where traditional photovoltaics cant compete. Konarka has already built functioning, full-size production cells that have achieved close to eight percent efficiency and expects to exceed 10 percent in the coming months. This breakthrough puts Konarka on par with or in some cases exceeding second generation materials, but at lower cost and with more options in the product form factor.
Find out more about Konarkas manufacturing methods as well as product applications.