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Solar Cells Built to Power Portable Devices in Low Light

Tim Jones (University of Warwick)

Tim Jones (University of Warwick)

Chemistry researchers at University of Warwick in the U.K. and Molecular Solar Ltd., a Warwick spin-off company in nearby Coventry, created an organic solar cell that generates enough power to recharge a lithium-ion battery directly and can work in various levels of light, including partial shade. The team led by Warwick professor Tim Jones (pictured right) describes their findings in an online issue of the journal Advanced Energy Materials; paid subscription required.

Organic photovoltaic cells are made from abundant and soluble materials that can be applied inexpensively with techniques that resemble printing on flexible substrates. Jones and colleagues created an organic solar cell that can produce sufficient power to directly charge a lithium-ion battery, like that used in mobile electronic devices. Earlier generations of organic photovoltaics require multiple cells wired in series.

Jones and colleagues say they achieved a breakthrough by addressing the problem faced by organic photovoltaics of low output voltage when the module is in low light levels or partial shading. In the paper, they demonstrated an organic solar cell with the ability to generate up to 7 volts, a value considerably greater than the 4.2 volts needed to charge a standard lithium-ion battery.

Tests of the solution devised by the Warwick/Molecular Solar team showed as well that the organic solar cells could perform well in different light conditions including partial shade. As a result, they have the potential to work in portable consumer electronic devices such as e-book readers, cameras and some mobile phones.

“A small light-weight solar charger no bigger than a credit card can be fitted to the battery of an e-book reader for example,” says Jones, “and constantly top it up with power while you are reading it, even if you are sitting inside on the sofa. Alternatively, this kind of solar cell could be ideal for outdoor use as it is lightweight and portable.”

Molecular Solar is developing inexpensive organic photovoltaic chargers that commercialize the Warwick technology. The company says it has demonstrated the ability to produce organic photovoltaic cells on a recyclable flexible substrate without using toxic materials.

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