Chemistry of Color

October 23, 2013 @ RDMagazine

Weaving in and out of the stripes of dye in this solar cell are metallic threads, printed onto a square of tracing paper that fits in the palm of one hand.

Weaving in and out of the stripes of dye in this solar cell are metallic threads, printed onto a square of tracing paper that fits in the palm of one hand.

“If you have blue anything—blue plastic, a blue car, blue clothes—it comes from copper phthalocyanine,” says asst. chemistry prof. Trisha Andrew.

Today, the commercial silicon-based solar cells we see on rooftops are manufactured on glass plates, and they absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity with about 12% efficiency. While silicon is a plentiful resource, it takes a lot of energy to process and requires valuable silver conductors to create a functioning solar cell. These technical issues tend to keep prices high. Yet, consumer interest in solar energy has increased to the point where IKEAs in Great Britain plan to sell solar panels alongside home decor. Grist reports that one of the simpler systems would cost over $9,000.

That’s why Andrew and her team are interested in developing new solar cell technologies that will instead use dyes containing carbon—the most abundant element on earth—and aluminum. Rather than requiring a glass base, the organic dyes Andrew uses can be laid down on material as light and inexpensive as paper.

“The cool thing about organic solar cells is that you can make very thin films out of them because they’re brightly colored, due to the fact that the dye absorbs a lot of light. In fact, organic dyes absorb the most light out of any material out there.”

 

Read all the story @ R&D  Magazine

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