Intel Research Seattle and three MSE professors team up on organic photovoltaics project

Intel Research Seattle and three MSE professors are collaborating on a project to improve the efficiency and stability of organic photovoltaics (OPVs), a promising technology that may one day help meet the world’s growing demand for energy.


Professors Alex Jen, Guozhong Cao and Christine Luscombe are contributing their expertise in materials design and fabrication. Other partners include the University of California, Los Angeles and Zheijiang University in China.
The goal of the project is to develop hybrid organic/inorganic solar cells that convert 10 percent of the sunlight they receive into electricity and last for seven years.

Jen said reaching these targets would help make it more cost-effective for manufacturers to produce OPVs at larger scales. “If we can make
OPV technology more efficient and stable, the technology will become marketable,” he said.


While silicon solar cells can convert more than 20 percent of the sunlight they harvest into electricity, they are expensive to produce. OPVs would be less expensive to produce, but have only recently reached efficiency levels of 6 percent. They also have lifetimes of about one year.


Jen said the main advantage of OPVs is their potential for high-speed manufacturing in roll-to-roll coating and printing production. OPVs are also lightweight, thin and flexible, enabling them to be placed virtually anywhere.


Founded in 2001, Intel Research Seattle is an exploratory research lab near the UW that aims to take computing beyond the desktop and into everyday life.


Alex Jen and Benjie Limketkai“As devices get smaller, battery life becomes the limiting factor,” said Benjie Limketkai, a researcher at Intel who is the principal investigator on the project. “Since OPVs are lightweight, integrate well with existing technology and are flexible, OPV technology can become more pervasive than traditional solar cells.” He said objects such as cell phones, laptops, backpacks and even windows could be fitted with OPVs.


“OPVs are a maturing technology,” Limketkai said. “They may not replace traditional batteries, but could be used to trickle-charge devices to improve their energy performance.”


Cao’s group will create inorganic nanostructures during device fabrication. Luscombe’s group will use a new polymerization method to grow organic polymers on these inorganic nanostructures, resulting in hybrid solar cells.


“The idea behind the hybrid devices is that we will be able to get the best of both worlds in terms of cheapness from the organic components, and more efficient and stable devices from the inorganic components,” Luscombe said.


Limketkai said that working with UW faculty members has been a positive experience. “The MSE faculty members have been really open and willing to collaborate,” Limketkai said. “The atmosphere here has been welcoming.”.

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