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Adding an Inert Polymer to Plastic Solar Cells Enables High Efficiency and Easy Production

Solar cell

Adding an inert polymer component in plastic solar cells – as visualized by the arrows in this image --  creates a unique columnar morphology and enables increased optimal device thickness, which is much better suited for the industrial production of solar cells by low-cost solution coating methods.

STONY BROOK, N.Y., July 2, 2018 -- Polymer plastic solar cells remain an industry priority because of their light weight, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Now scientists from Stony Brook University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have demonstrated that these types of solar cells can be more efficient and have more stability based on new research findings.

Led by Miriam Rafailovich, PhD, a Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University, and Chang-Yong Nam, PhD, a scientist at BNL and Adjunct Professor at Stony Brook, the research team discovered that by adding a common inert polymer, called polystyrene, these solar cells undergo an optimized internal morphology, resulting in a higher device performance.

The discovery solves a problem with polymer plastic solar cells. Most of these cells require an additive included for high device performance – a non-active small chain molecule to control internal morphology. But the additive is known to cause stability problems under light and heat, thus compromising performance and efficiency.

The new study, published in Advanced Materials Interfaces, demonstrates that replacing the additive with the inert polymer potentially solves this problem. In a previously published paper in Nanoscale, the researchers used a similar approach, but, with a different polymer.

This earlier work illustrated that a newly engineered polymer plastic solar cell increases optimal thickness – a quality that is better suited for industrial production by low-cost coating methods. The significance of this result was featured on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) website.

The ongoing investigation of these polymer plastic solar cells is taking place at Stony Brook’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and BNL’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the DOE.



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Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.



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