Solar Cells – Brian Albert

The use of solar energy has long been a major goal to provide humans with “free” electricity.  This is a very appealing aspiration because on a sunny day the sun gives Earth more energy than we can use.  Solar energy has the potential to provide cheap green electricity and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

Certainly, this begs the question to be asked: Why aren’t we using solar technology already?

Actually, we have been using solar cells for over 50 years!  Solar cells have predominantly been made from silicon however; the cost of producing solar cells has been a major detraction from its broad use due to the price of the raw materials and processing difficulties.  Thus the burning of fossil fuels is currently a more economical way to provide households and businesses with electricity.

Solar cells utilize semiconducting materials to convert the light into electricity by the photoelectric effect, and have typically been made from inorganic materials, predominantly silicon.

An alternative to the use of silicon is organic photovoltaic devices that use organic semiconducting polymers.  They are expected to have much lower manufacturing costs, ease of processing, and provide solar cells with better properties (lightweight & flexible), meaning more affordable solar cells with broader applications.  A leader in this field is Luping Yu of The University of Chicago who has developed many semiconducting organic polymers.

Luping Yu, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago

For more information about photovoltaic cells produce electricity, check out this video!

As the world becomes increasingly conscious of the environmetal concerns of using fossil fuels for energy, let’s hope the promise of solar energy garners more attention.  Hopefully, Yu’s research opens new avenues for the practical use of this green source of energy.

Here are some additional resources to learn a little more about solar energy.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/solar-cell1.htm

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201002687/abstract

http://lupingyu.uchicago.edu/publications/naturephotonics2009.pdf

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja808373p?journalCode=jacsat&quickLinkVolume=131&quickLinkPage=56&volume=131