University of Texas at Austin Scientists Partner With Leading Plastic Solar Cell Manufacturer

A recently announced formal partnership between researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Konarka Technologies Inc. could lead to improved plastic solar cell technologies.

The partnership matches faculty that are supported by energy-related grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Science Foundation (NSF) with one of the world's leading manufacturers of plastic solar cells.

"This partnership unites cutting edge science with state-of-the-art technology in solar energy conversion," said Xiaoyang Zhu, professor of chemistry and director of The University of Texas at Austin's DOE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) for Understanding Charge Separation and Transfer at Interfaces in Energy Materials.

"On top of good fundamental science, this is a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn from and interact with an industry leader," said Chemistry Professor Christopher Bielawski, who leads the NSF-sponsored Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI), which aims to answer fundamental questions in plastic electronic materials.

The researchers say collaboration with Konarka will allow them to better align their scientific goals with critical needs in the plastic solar cell industry and to develop ideal model systems for achieving the goals of the both the EFRC and CCI programs.

Konarka will gain insights into the physical limitations of plastic solar cell efficiencies and an understanding of critical limiting processes in specific solar cell systems.

Konarka recently achieved the world record in plastic solar cell efficiency, at 8.3 percent, with its Power Plastic, a material that converts light to electrical energy. Solar cells composed of plastic are advantageous for energy applications because they are low-cost, are produced in a large-scale printing process, and are lightweight and flexible. Konarka's Power Plastic is used to create solar panels for backpacks, laptop cases and building windows.

Konarka Technologies, founded in 2001, is in Lowell, Mass. Its co-founders include Howard Berke, a technology entrepreneur, and Alan Heeger, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000 for his contribution to the discovery of conducting polymers. Since 2009, Konarka's Power Plastic has been mass-produced in a "printing" facility in Lowell with a capacity of one gigawatt per year.