Organic solar cell  (Source: Blogspot)
Researchers study the effects of solar cell technology

Rochester Institute of Technology researchers have conducted a study to assess the environmental advantages and disadvantages of organic solar cells as well as the amount of energy required to make them.

Solar energy is seen as a potential alternative to petroleum for energy production, but solar-cell technology is expensive to mass produce and the total energy required to make it is high. Also, there is not enough information on what effect solar energy has on the environment. But now, Annick Anctil, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in RIT's doctoral program in sustainability and lead researcher on the study, along with Brian Landi, assistant professor of chemical engineering at RIT and faculty advisor on the study, and their research team have performed one of the first life-cycle evaluation's of organic solar cells. 

The problem with previous assessment's was that they didn't provide a component-by-component breakdown of the materials needed in an organic solar cell or what the total energy payback of these cell's are. Through the study conducted by Anctil, the environmental impact of the fabrication, material collection, mass production and use of organic solar cells as well as the total energy use was calculated. What they found is that the total energy required to make these products, or the embodied energy, is less for organic solar cells than traditional inorganic units. 

"Organic solar cells are flexible and lightweight, and they have the promise of low-cost solution processing, which can have advantages for manufacturing over previous-generation technologies that primarily use inorganic semiconductor materials," said Anctil. "However, previous assessments of the energy and environmental impact of the technology have been incomplete and a broader analysis is needed to better evaluate the overall effect of production and use."

The study also found that the energy produced from solar cells versus the energy needed to manufacture it was lower compared to inorganic cells. But the team added that continuous studies to verify the cell's stability are "still warranted."

"The data produced will help designers and potential manufacturers better assess how to use and improve the technology and analyze its feasibility versus other solar and alternative-energy technologies," said Landi. 

Anctil, Landi, and the team hope to analyze the environmental impact of solar cells further with more life-cycle assessments of varied types of solar cell technology. The team presented their study at the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers 2010 Photovoltaic Specialists Conference

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