Cambridge Scientists develop solar cell capable of significant efficiency improvements

Scientists from Cambridge University have developed new solar cells that could increase the maximum efficiency of solar panels by over 25 percent.

The scientists, from the University’s Department of Physics, have developed a unique type of solar cell which could harvest energy from the sun much more efficiently than traditional designs.

Bruno Ehrler, the lead author on the paper, Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge's Department of Physics, said: “Organic and hybrid solar cells have an advantage over current silicon-based technology because they can be produced in large quantities at low cost by roll-to-roll printing. However, much of the cost of a solar power plant is in the land, labour, and installation hardware. As a result, even if organic solar panels are less expensive, we need to improve their efficiency to make them competitive.”

The Cambridge team, led by Professor Neil Greenham and Professor Sir Richard Friend, has developed a hybrid cell which absorbs red light and harnesses the extra energy of blue light to boost the electrical current. A solar cell will typically generate a single electron for each photon captured. However, by adding pentacene, an organic semiconductor, solar cells can generate two electrons for every photon from the blue light spectrum – enabling cells to capture 44 percent of the solar energy.

Mark Wilson, another author on the paper, said:  “I think it’s very important that we move towards sustainable sources of energy, and it’s exciting to help explore possible solutions.”

Dr. Akshay Rao, co-author on the paper noted: “This is just the first step towards a new generation of solar cells and we are very excited to be a part of this effort.”

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).