A Printable, Flexible, Organic Solar Cell

from TED

Unlike the solar cells you’re used to seeing, organic photovoltaics are made of compounds that are dissolved in ink and can be printed and molded using simple techniques. The result is a low-weight, flexible, semi-transparent film that turns the energy of the sun into electricity. Hannah Bürckstümmer shows us how they’re made — and how they could change the way we power the world.

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8 Responses to A Printable, Flexible, Organic Solar Cell

  1. Chris Goldfarb April 27, 2018 at 8:36 pm #

    At present, the state of the environment is analogous to man standing on the edge of cliff ready to jump. He has been climbing this cliff for years and years, and the cliff has only gotten higher and higher, but now he’s finally got to the top. That is climate change in a nutshell, it is something that has been seriously building since about the first industrial revolution and it is finally ready to show us the immense consequences for our actions and the actions of our ancestors. Every day the man gets a couple inches closer to the edge, and common sense tells us once he is over the edge the potential damage becomes almost impossible to stop.
    For the most part humans are reactionary creature’s not proactive ones, similar to the man on the cliff we may only start to regret our actions after we see the ground hurdling towards us and by then it is too late. No matter how important this issue is, it is evidently too complex and huge for the common man to comprehend, so instead we either ignore it or try and spread doubt on hard evidence and fact. Though the ground does not much care about how the man feels about the situation right before they smash into each other.
    The video makes two points very early on that resonated with me, first, we have the tools to get the man down off the cliff right now, and second, this makes the lack of action in trying to get the man down even more frustrating. From my point of view however I believe it is important to understand that this man is dead set on jumping off this cliff and no one can change that. The only person that can bring that man down of that ledge is himself. This is where the dilemma comes from because if we started talking down this man when he first started his journey (in about 1820, Jean Fourier described what we now know as the Greenhouse effect, https://www.co2.earth/1820-1930-fourier-to-arrhenius) than it would have been much easier to get him down. For one, because he was not have been as high as he is now, and two, he has not gone through all the trouble of getting to the top yet which only fed his determination to jump. This may all be for naught because as far as we can tell the man has already jumped and the best we can do is try and give him some pillows to land on.

  2. Dean Spenzos April 27, 2018 at 8:40 pm #

    The product this video is about is something I have never seen before and solves a problem I didn’t even know existed. Normal solar panels are big, ugly, and heavy. They are too big of a load for a normal roof to carry and are not visually pleasing for anyone looking at them. Human energy consumption is one of the biggest problems today that impacts the whole world. The amount of energy we use is too much for the Earth to replenish at a natural rate and we could easily see the negative effects of this in the near future. An astounding fact that she pointed out about the material they are using is that a single kilogram can cover the entire surface of a football (soccer) field. It is flexible, lightweight, and almost completely transparent. The possibilities of implementing this into everyday life are endless. I recently took a biology class and the professor is actually doing work on a certain kind of fungus that can naturally produce energy for us. The fungi is able to break down oils and releases a significant amount of heat relative to its own mass. Scientists are researching how we can take that heat and turn it into usable energy. I think these new and unique ways to create energy will be what helps us in the future. There probably won’t be one big source of energy that will solve all our problems but a variety of different ways that can make up the margin of energy that we use.
    The specific design of this product is what I think will sell the product among the general public. The biggest issue we had with putting wind turbines in the ocean is that people thought they were too close to shore and were not visually pleasing. The biggest obstacle with implementing new products is the public’s opinion because they can cause the success or failure of things like this. It was extremely smart of the architects to suggest a pattern that looks so nice because people won’t just be okay with it, they will want more. These “solar trees” were designed brilliantly and did a great job of getting past a major obstacle. Now that they’ve figured how to make a solar panel look good it will be much easier to improve on the product and make it even more efficient. We no longer have to worry about where we put these solar panels because they can go anywhere there is sun. They look so good people would be willing to give money to put up a few of these in their town. This is the kind of innovation that is going to change the world and I’m happy it’s happening now. We are so desperate for new ideas for energy and it feels good to find one like this.

  3. Alan Josefsek April 27, 2018 at 8:45 pm #

    Printable solar cells offer exciting potential for generating electricity more flexibly and at a lower cost, wherever the sun shines. In the traditional silicon solar panels we see on people’s rooftops, the most costly component is the silicon material that holds the photovoltaic elements. While silicon is abundant and non-toxic, it is expensive to process into wafers for traditional rooftop solar panels, meaning commercial use is economically out of the question. According to the video, forty percent (40%) of the globe’s energy needs come from buildings; most of which are commercial. Once again because of the high price of these panels, it is not an option even for large corporations on a massive budget. According to a consortium from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, printable solar cells have only reached about 10 per cent efficiency, whereas traditional silicon solar PV cells are closer to 25% efficient. The life span of the printed solar cells is also only six months. So, researchers are working to increase their efficiency, weather-resistance and life span to reach commercial viability. This will allow the price to decrease dramatically for corporations that own or lease properties in large skyscrapers, which will in turn lead to mass adoption of these technologies. These solar cells could last more than 10,000 hours under standard conditions and the maximum efficiency achieved by the 2D/3D combination was 14.6 percent. In the near future further optimization of the internal structure of the device will continue to push perovskite solar cells much closer to their theoretical efficiency. “Further interface engineering by functionalized multi-dimensional 2D/3D interfaces, and preferential orientation of perovskite crystals would be the focus of our laboratory” said Dr. Nazeeruddin of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Low cost, printable and long life solar panels are closer than ever, and it looks like it’s ready to leave the safety of the laboratory.

  4. Daniel Schreier April 29, 2018 at 4:20 pm #

    Energy is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. With demand for it increasing every year, especially due to the expansion of economies in developing countries such as China and India, and on the other hand, environmental issues such as global warming, we need to start figuring out ways to generate power and energy without harming the environment even more. Today, there are two main sources of power which are renewable and clean: solar and wind. They are both very useful, however, they still are expensive and hard to install and maintain. Still, the even greater challenge is for houses and business to be self-sustainable in energy. This means they will not rely on power supply companies to provide them with energy. They can use their own power supply, and in case there is a surplus or shortage in power, they will be able to buy or sell from other places which will be included in this system, and in the last case, they would rely in the public power supply. As such, ideas like the one by Mrs. Hannah Bürckstümmer are pivotal for this new concept on how to power the world, since they offer a cheap and relatively simple way to generate electricity from sunlight. Still, when considering new ways of generating electrical power, many geographical aspects must be considered. In instance, cities like New York and Chicago have a very high latitude, which means they do not get enough sunlight especially during winter as cities that are located closer to Ecuador. Those cities should look for a more efficient way of generating power, like wind. Chicago, known as the “windy-city” would definitely benefit from new development in wind-generated electricity. Still, many cities in the United States, like Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, and many others overseas, like Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Dubai, Sydney, should be investing more resources on empowering their local populations relating to they having their own supply of power, since this means taking the political power and dependence from the regular power companies, which are unreliable, and usually offer a bad service charging a lot of money for it and draining environmental resources, to an self-sustainable system, which would empower the most important aspect of a city; their people.

  5. Ryan Mack May 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm #

    Technology and innovation keep pushing us forward as a society and has been rapidly improving our lives, for the most part since there are growing pains with anything innovative, since the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Technological growth had existed before this time, but had not progressed as quickly as it does today and it will only grow exponentially from here. It’s common that when people hear the word “technology” they think of a smartphone or a laptop, which isn’t entirely wrong, but is only a fraction of what technological advancements actually are. “Technology” is defined as ‘the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry’ and encompasses fare more than electronics such as improvements to manufacturing, building, or medical treatment processes, clothing, playing surfaces, various safety equipment and so on. One other area there have been technological advancements in is in energy generation and consumption. There is a heated debate going on over climate change and carbon emissions. Personally, I’m skeptical about some of the global warming research being argued for the cause of global temperature increases. Fossil fuels are still my preferred energy source, especially ‘clean-burning’ ones such as natural gas. Regardless, the world is moving toward being environmentally friendly and natural. Buildings across the U.S. are being renovated or constructed to be energy efficient and LEED certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a rating system by the U.S. Green Building Council for any building to be recognized as a symbol of sustainability achievement. LEED buildings produce much of their own and use less energy, water, and other resources, produce less waste and support human health. According to Hannah Bürckstümmer in the TED video titled A printable, flexible, organic solar cell, buildings consume about 40% of total energy demand. Buildings designed along sustainable principles, such as LEED buildings, can produce all the energy it needs on its own. To achieve this, there first has to be a reduction in the energy consumption as much as possible. This can be done by designing the buildings with innovative “energy efficient” walls or windows, which are already commercially available. Another area of energy consumption that can be reduced and redesigned to provide sustainable power is heating and cooling the building and heating its water. Technologies to achieve this include solar water heaters, better insulation, geothermal pumps, and/or heat pumps. Last, a building consumes energy in its need for electricity. As of 2017, according to the US. Energy Information Administration the United States gets most of its electrical energy from fossil fuels at 62.7%, with nuclear following at 20.0%, renewables at 17.1% and other sources at ~0.3%. Bürckstümmer suggests we do things a different way. She wants to turn buildings from energy consumers to energy producers by improving solar energy technology to possibly become the energy source of choice. Currently, solar panels are big, sometimes bulky and take up space, and ruing the aesthetic of a building. These are some of the reasons people don’t like to use solar energy, myself included. But what Bürckstümmer and her team are doing is solving those problems with the present-day generation of solar cells by designing a solar cell that is smaller, lightweight, flexible and printable to fit into whichever design of a building or other application someone chooses. To describe the technology more scientifically, they are working on a solar cell design called organic photovoltaics or OPV that focuses on using carbon as opposed to metals, which are in current designs, for light absorption and charge transport. The carbon is used in polymer chains, and a molecule called fullerene, and are combined to make an ink that is printed using simple row by row printing methods on flexible substrates. The substrates, a substrate is a substance or layer that lies under something, are made of polyethylene terephthalate or PET, a plastic that is widely used for beverage bottles and has the ability to be very flexible. The result is the very material efficient, active layer of the solar cell absorbing the sun’s energy requiring only 0.2 micrometers of the material to do so, significantly smaller than a human hair at about 20 micrometers, 100 times less. To put things into perspective she used the example of using only 1 kg of the basic polymer to make the ink will print a solar cell that covers the entire area of a soccer field. In the presentation she held up a small six pointed star of the solar cell and demonstrated its partial transparency, lightweight design, and flexibility. Its flexibility allows it to be placed in or on several different areas and with different shapes and sizes. Some office buildings have already been using them on the exterior sides of the buildings on the windows. I’m also curious as to whether these could be used on electric cars or in smartphone screens, since it can even work with even interior light. Besides having less of an impact on the environment, this newer solar technology could have a considerably large positive impact on our wallets. The sun’s energy is free, the only cost is the solar panels, whose prices will likely drop as it becomes more commercially available and common in the end leaving us paying substantially less for energy than we currently do. This has the potential to really affect change in energy usage and production, and could actually end up being the solar energy of the future.

  6. zhijie Yang May 4, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    Batteries have always been an important factor affecting the performance and experience of smart wearable devices and even electronic devices as a whole. Research achievements in the field of batteries also include materials for the extraction of high-performance environmentally-friendly sodium-ion batteries from rotten apples.
    Solar cell technology has become increasingly affordable, and together with the traditional silicon solar cells become a good alternative. Epishine?http://epishine.se/2016/04/21/new-world-record-for-organic-solar-cells/? is an example of the company’s commitment to the commercialization of innovative solar cells. This solar cell consists of a sheet of carbon atoms printed on a flexible plastic film. The first solar cells were put into use in the 1970s when they were mainly used for lighthouses, boats, summer houses and caravans. Although there are still markets for such facilities, the steadily growing market segment is grid-connected solar power. Most people agree that solar energy is more conducive to the environment – but from a life cycle perspective, how is it achieved? Future energy must be scalable and cost-effective without relying on limited resources. They should be recyclable, free of harmful chemicals, and have a small footprint in the manufacturing process.
    In addition, the international R&D team led by John Rogers of the University of Illinois (https://engineering.illinois.edu/news/article/7958) developed a battery with a tiny solar charging unit that is as elastic as a band-aid. This battery is very light, and it is very comfortable to use on human skin. To be able to provide a flexible power supply, the researchers divided an ordinary lithium battery into small, ultrathin pieces. These small pieces are connected together by wires. Then, these arrays are integrated into a soft rubber material and coated with a slightly stiffer rubber. On the top of the battery cell, there is a tiny solar unit, biosensor, and chip.
    This conceptual device can be applied to the human skin like a band-aid, providing a biosensor data stream, or it can be built into smart clothes to provide a new way of powering. It is not hard to imagine that the body’s heat and exercise can be used later as an energy acquisition method for the battery, allowing the wearable device to work 24 hours a day, without having to remove the charge, and it can really solve the problem of battery life of the wearable device. This is also an industry. The key issues facing all current products.

  7. Jacob Abel May 4, 2018 at 7:31 pm #

    The revolutionary technology shown in this video is something that really shocked me and it has massive implications for the future. If the solar panels describe in this video are actually affordable and able to be produced on a mass scale then it could truly benefit business and the environment. The development could revolutionize the construction industry around the world and change building standards. As the video mentioned current solar panels are not aesthetically pleasing and are expensive. with this development architects can no develop modern looking buildings that are also energy producers, while also helping to preserve the environment. If you are able to produce something as small as what the video showed then the opportunities to use solar are limitless. In regards to climate change this is an affordable solution that the average person could buy into. Without the pesky cost of installing solar panels on every house in America, we could truly develop a green energy future. This could completely undermine the use of fossil fuels as solar panels could theoretically be put anywhere. I also don’t find it interesting that this development occurred in Europe, which unsurprisingly is usually on the forefront of green energy. Given the limited space on the continent it would make sense that this development in solar technology would come about there. I am interested to see if similar developments come about with other technologies and how this will effect our energy future. I also hope that this technology is widely adopted in the United States as it would have a lot of benefits.

  8. Antonio Chirichiello May 4, 2018 at 8:28 pm #

    I believe that an alternative resource is necessary in order for the earth’s longevity. We continue to use up natural resources faster than, we can replenish. According to the video it states that, human beings in 2017 used up natural resources for the year by August. That is a terrible sign that, we are using a year’s worth of resources in only eight months. At this rate, the earth will not be able to sustain life much longer than a decade or two. An alternative resource is mandatory in order for, the earth to continue to harvest life. If the old solar panels are not acquiring enough of the sun’s energy, then why not try a new solar technology.

    The organic photovoltaics technology sounds interesting because, it is light weight technology, organic based products, and it is adaptable to any building. The technology is made from carbon base and not metals. The organic compounds used are melted together to become, an ink which is eligible to be printed. It can be printed into the construction of new buildings or, it can be integrated into old ones. All of the elements used are organic and, the technology is also a flexible material. Adaptability is important especially to buildings because, they use forty percent of the resource output. The lightweight design was created for any roof big or small and even thick or thin.

    Also, this technology can harvest the light from inside a home. The compactness makes it beneficial to more than one circumstance. Because this OPV technology is so small, anyone can make a group of 1000 OPV to harvest, a great amount of solar energy. They also have the ability to create energy which may be, a key proponent to their commercial success. The ability to create energy is essential because, we are using them faster than they can be replenished. If it has the ability to create energy does, it have to ability to store the energy that is not needed? There is more I would like to learn about this need form of solar technology.

    In conclusion, as the supply of natural resources becomes limited due to over harvesting our options become scarce. I believe that we need to look at the next best available alternative energy, which is sustainable to the environment. If we are not more aware and conscious about our impacts on the world then, the earth may not survive. It is imperative that we find solutions now so, we as humanity have can allow our future generations to live comfortably. Only we can set the trend for what the future may be like. If we fail to change to tides to a more sustainable life then, there may not be an earth in the future.

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