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January 17, 2013

Heliatek Achieves World-Record 12 Percent Efficiency for Organic Solar Cells



Dresden, Germany-based manufacturer Heliatek Gmbh announced this week that it had achieved record-breaking 12 percent efficiency with its organic solar cells. The company, which spun off from the Technical University of Dresden (IAPP) and the University of Ulm in 2006, said that those organizations shared credit for the accomplishment.  

The world record was measured and confirmed by Geneva-based SGS Consumer Testing (News - Alert) Services. The measurement campaign at SGS also validated the superior low light and high temperature performances of organic photovoltaics (OPV) compared to traditional solar technologies.  The 12 percent record cell on a standard size of 1.1 cm² combines two patented absorber materials, which convert light of different wavelengths. Using two different absorber materials produces stronger absorption of photons and improves energy utilization through a higher photovoltage. 

Thanks to OPV’s unique behavior at high temperatures and in low light conditions, this 12 percent efficiency rating is comparable to about 14 percent to 15 percent efficiency for traditional solar technologies like crystalline silicon and thin film PV.  Whereas those technologies significantly lose cell efficiency with rising temperatures and decreasing solar irradiation, organic cells increase their efficiency in these conditions—leading to a much higher energy harvesting in real-life environments. 

“We are pleased to continue to lead the OPV industry with this landmark achievement. Our continuous progress comforts us in our ability to reach 15 percent efficiency by 2015 and gradually transfer our record efficiencies into Heliatek’s roll-to-roll production line. We manufacture solar films and not solar panels. Our customers in the building and construction material industry, in automotive and in light structures, such as shading and street furniture, are integrating these solar films as energy harvesting components to increase the functionality of their products,” commented Thibaud Le Séguillon, CEO of Heliatek.

 Martin Pfeiffer, co-founder and CTO of Heliatek, added: “Achieving an unprecedented 12 percent OPV efficiency is a clear validation of Heliatek’s choice not to focus on printed polymers, but to go with vacuum-deposited oligomers. This technology has been used successfully for OLED [organic light-emitting diode] displays over the last decade. Vacuum deposition allows for extremely thin, yet homogeneous, layers down to 5 nanometers. That is only one ten-thousandth of a human hair or twice the size of a strand of a human DNA. With this well-controlled, ultra-thin film process we can deposit a large number of layers on top of each other—creating tandem-, or even triple-junction cells, to absorb a broader spectrum of light.” The new world record efficiency for OPV improves the prior record of 10.7 percent, which also was set by Heliatek, just nine months ago. To achieve this latest leap in cell efficiency, Heliatek capitalized on its in-house R&D know-how and its strong ties to leading universities in the field of OPV. One of the two absorbers was developed and synthesized by Ulm University’s Institute of Organic Chemistry II and Advanced Materials, headed by Prof. Peter Bäuerle, co-founder of Heliatek. The cooperation also encompassed Prof. Karl Leo (co-founder of Heliatek) and Moritz Riede of the Institut für Angewandte Photophysik (IAPP) of TU Dresden.

The world record was facilitated by significant research and development support from the German Ministry of Education and Research), the EU FP7 Program, and the German Research Foundation. Heliatek’s OPV technology based on small molecules (oligomers) is currently being transferred to commercial production. The first production line was launched in spring 2012 and Heliatek Solar Films already are being delivered to industry partners for product development. The commercialization of first partner applications with integrated Heliatek Solar Films as energy harvesting components is expected in late 2013. In parallel, Heliatek has launched a financing round to raise €60 million (US$80 million) from current and new investors for a new roll-to-roll volume production line to draw on economies of scale.

In related news, late last year, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), based in Golden, Colorado, and its industry partner Solar Junction, based in San Jose, California, announced that they had  achieved another world record of 44 percent efficiency in their ultra-high-efficiency multi-junction solar energy cells for the concentrating photovoltaics (CPV) market.

The newest cells build on previous successes with multi-junction PV cells (which use layered semiconductors, with each layer optimized to capture different wavelengths of light) and combine them with low-cost concentrating lenses to multiply the intensity of the sun's energy hitting the cells.

Last year, NREL and Solar Junction set a record in efficiency with their SJ3 cells, which are designed for use in utility-scale concentrated solar photovoltaic projects. The SJ3 was verified as being able to convert 43.5 percent (at 415 suns - a measurement of the intensity of the sun's energy when multiplied) of the energy in sunlight into electricity, but this latest iteration set a new high of 44 percent efficiency (at 947 suns).

According to NREL, the latest breakthrough, along with other advances, could "pave the way for a 50 percent-efficient solar cell in the not-distant future.”

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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