ST Offers R&D Program for Low-Cost Solar Cells

September 30, 2003 by Jeff Shepard

STMicroelectronics Inc. (ST, Geneva, Switzerland) released details of an advanced research program that it hopes will substantially reduce the cost of generating electricity from solar power. The research team, based in Catania and Naples, Italy, is focusing on applying ST's expertise in nanotechnology to the development of new solar cell technologies that will eventually be able to compete commercially with conventional electricity generation methods such as burning fossil fuels or nuclear reactors.

Semiconductor-based solar cells have the highest efficiency (defined as the electrical energy produced for a given input of solar energy), but there is little that can be done to either increase the efficiency or reduce the manufacturing cost. ST is therefore pursuing alternative approaches in which the aim is to produce solar cells that may have lower efficiencies, but are much cheaper to manufacture. The ST team is also developing low-cost solar cells using a full organic approach, in which a mixture of electron-acceptor and electron-donor organic materials is sandwiched between two electrodes. The nanostructure of this blend is crucial for the cell performance because the electron-donor and electron-acceptor materials have to be in an intimate contact at distances below 10nm. ST plans to use Fullerene (C60) as the electron-acceptor material and an organic copper compound as the electron-donor.