Tiny Tech #20: Organic Solar Cells

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

Ever wonder how a solar cell works?  When sunlight strikes a solar cell, its energy is transferred to electrons, which jump out of their original locations and move through the solar cell, creating an electrical current. 

Most solar cells today are made of silicon, but scientists are investigating whether they can be made from less expensive materials such as sunlight-absorbing plastics.  When sunlight falls on a plastic solar cell, energetic electrons are created, but unfortunately they can’t move quickly through plastic.  As a result, many of the electrons simply return to their original locations without generating a current.
One solution to this problem is to use very small, nano-sized pieces of the light-absorbing plastic.  Then, electrons can easily travel the short distance needed to escape and generate a current.  Other problems still need to be solved before plastic solar cells will be commercially competitive, but they already can give currents almost as large as silicon cells.

So, someday you might use sunlight and plastic to charge your phone, instead of plugging it into the wall.  Which suggests that nanotechnology has the potential to be very useful … when seen in the right light.

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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