Study: Organic Cell Solar Trumps Silicon

There’s growing excitement these days around organic photovoltaic solar cells, which use semiconducting plastics instead of the traditional silicon-based cells to produce thin-film solar delivery systems. Organic cells don’t have the efficiency of silicon-based cells, but they’re a lot cheaper. So could it be possible that organic cells are a better alternative over an entire life-cycle? Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) researchers say one of the first studies to address that question has yielded positive results.

According to an RIT press release, university researchers attempted to calculate the energy use and environmental impact  that comes with material collection, fabrication, mass production and use of organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells. They found that “the embodied energy — or the total energy required to make a product — is less for organic solar cells compared with conventional inorganic devices.”

image via Rochester Institute of Technology

Annick Anctil, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in RIT’s doctoral program in sustainability, led the research. “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,” she said. “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.”

While OPVs appear to have a life-cycle edge, the researchers said further study was needed to determine the stability of panels using the technology.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 22, 2010


    just like the batteries.. which innovation is better for the planet.. nice to hear planet earth is striking a balance !

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