The energy company Phillips 66 in collaboration with South China University of Technology (SCUT) and California startup Solarmer Energy Inc. has developed organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells that set a new world record for energy conversion efficiency in this category: 9.31%.
This is one more desirable step for solar energy, as OPV technology is lightweight, relatively easy to manufacture and performs well in low light conditions. OPV cells can be printed on flexible plastics or foils in thin-film roll-to-roll processing on a large scale.
Over the past two years, Phillips 66 has plucked scientists specialising in OPV from top universities all over the world to assemble their world-record-achieving research team, based at the company’s Bartlesville research centre in Oklahoma (US).
The world-record cell used a new polymer jointly developed by Solarmer and Phillips 66. “The interface technology developed at South China University of Technology is a novel electron transport layer which can enhance the transport of electrons and reduce the interface resistance,” He explains. The record-breaking cell was uniquely fabricated in an inverted architecture.
“Our approach has been to try to improve the materials associated with the technology, and that is really what is needed to get OPV technology to a commercially viable level,” says Dr. Ting He, who directs the Alternative Energy group at Phillips 66 Technology. His team, he says, is going to continue their research in this area, determined to get to 12 to 15% efficiency. The next big milestone, though, is to achieve 10% efficiency in the near future. “By continuing to find ways to increase OPV efficiency, organics will be able to better compete in the marketplace, especially when you factor in that they are much less expensive than silicon-based panels,” the scientist says.
What is an energy giant whose logo most people know from gasoline stations doing beating out academia for breaking solar technology records? “The OPV research is one of several Sustainable Technology programs Phillips 66 is working on,” He says. “Although our core business is in petrochemicals, it is important that the company understand all sources of energy. That is why Phillips 66 continues to invest in its Technology organisation, including hiring more than 50 PhDs in the last two years; recruiting from 25 different universities throughout the world; and bringing in diverse hires from every continent.”
Phillips 66 states they will stick with advancing solar technologies by continuing to manipulate and test the structures of their polymers in their research facility in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (US) and share learnings and insight through their research agreement with Solarmer.