Replacing the Fullerene in Plastic Solar Cells

March 17, 2014

Repurposing Automotive Paint for Solar Cells

A team of UC Santa Barbara researchers led by Institute faculty Thuc-Quyen Nguyen and Guillermo Bazan has developed a new type of plastic solar cell utilizing a molecule extremely similar to the dye used in red automotive paint. The vast majority of plastic solar cells are made by combining a special type of plastic with a fullerene molecule. Fullerene molecules are spherical nanostructured forms of carbon that are produced in small batches using relatively large amounts of energy and harsh chemicals. The research team at UC Santa Barbara was able to successfully replace the fullerene with a molecule very similar to dyes that are currently produced economically by the thousands of tons.

Path to Commercialization

dye molecule
Figure 2: Chemical structure of the dye molecule used by the UC Santa Barbara research team to replace fullerene molecules.

Due to the ease with which these dye molecules are produced in large quantities, successfully incorporating them into plastic solar cells could expedite commercialization of this technology. Additionally, these dye molecules absorb more light than fullerenes — clearly a benefit for solar cells, which work by converting light from the sun into electricity. Solar cells using this dye molecule, however, aren’t quite as efficient as solar cells using fullerene molecules. Plastic solar cells using fullerene molecules convert almost every absorbed photon into electrical current, whereas solar cells using the dye molecule studied in this work only convert about half the absorbed photons into electricity. This is still significantly better than many of the other molecules that have been tried as fullerene replacements, and is notably one of the highest performing non-fullerene plastic solar cells. The research team is still working to understand specifically why these dye molecules don’t perform as well as fullerenes so that they can be leveraged to produce efficient plastic solar cells on an industrial scale. Use of such materials makes plastic solar cells more likely to play a significant role in lessening society’s dependence on fossil fuels.


Author: Alex Sharenko, February 2014
Materials Department, UC Santa Barbara

To read the full article, click here.

Authors and publication details:
Alexander Sharenko, Christopher M. Proctor, Thomas S. van der Poll, Zachary B. Henson, Thuc-Quyen Nguyen, Guillermo C. Bazan, “A High-Performing Solution-Processed Small Molecule:Perylene Diimide Bulk Heterojunction Solar Cell.” Advanced Materials Volume 25, Issue 32 (2013).

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