Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Researchers at Georgia Tech are experimenting with similar fiber-based organic solar cells. Zhong Lin Wang, professor of materials science and engineering at the university, says the approach has “major advantages” over conventional flat-cell designs. His lab has developed a hybrid cell consisting of optical fibers and a nanowire fuzz made of zinc oxide that is grown on the outside walls of the fibers. The nanowires, treated with light-absorbing dyes, are meant to provide a greater surface area for capturing sunlight. Wang says this approach enhances efficiency by a factor of six, though his lab has yet to go beyond a single fiber strand. “We are still working on integrating multiple fibers [on a larger surface],” he says.

Carroll started his research back in 2004, giving Wake University a head start on the path to commercialization. “Most of the devices out there now are on individual fibers,” he says. Carroll also says there’s no shortage of roll-to-roll processing techniques on the market that could make substrates covered with optical fibers. “We’ll be borrowing from those; this isn’t difficult to do,” he says. “Sensitivity to film thickness and coatings quality is much less than we had anticipated, meaning that manufacturing routes are much closer than we first anticipated.”

FiberCell is currently talking with investors and aims to produce its fiber-based organic cells for roof tiles and other products that would benefit from the ability to accept light from different angles “If I get this to perform near its maximum, then I have a device that should theoretically be able to surpass 15 percent efficiency, approaching 20 percent,” Carroll says. This would make organic photovoltaic technology competitive with today’s top silicon panels.

John Paul Morgan, an optical engineer and chief technology officer of concentrated photovoltaic solar company Morgan Solar, says the FiberCell approach will have to compete with other techniques designed to increase panel surface area and trap more light. Growing a forest of tightly grouped nanowires on top of a substrate, for example, has been shown to improve the efficiency of organic cells.

“Optical fibers are an interesting approach, but like other approaches it comes down to the challenges of fabrication,” said Morgan. “All new cell technologies face issues with moisture, electrical connections, wear and tear. If they can overcome these, then this could be a very viable idea. I’m excited to see what comes next.”

6 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Wake Forest University

Tagged: Energy, Materials, renewable energy, materials, solar cells, organic solar cells

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »