by Woodson Powell
German solar company Heliatek has officially set the new world record for organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells with a conversion efficiency of 13.2%, as confirmed by Fraunhofer CSP [http://www.heliatek.com/en/press/press-releases/details/heliatek-sets-new-organic-photovoltaic-world-record-efficiency-of-13-2]. Conversion efficiency refers to direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. The company’s end goal is 15%, but this is a big leap forward. With this progress, Heliatek CEO Thibaude Le Séguillon has said that the company is looking forward to the possibility of future cars being covered in solar coatings, enabling drivers to charge their cars while they are on the road, either behind the wheel, or parked. For the moment, Heliatek is working on replacing sun roofs with OPV cell windows.
The first OPV cells had efficiencies only at about 3% (about ten years ago), but by 2013, Heliatek was already at the 12% mark [http://cleantechnica.com/2016/02/08/new-record-organic-solar-cells-today-solar-powered-car-tomorrow/]. The most recent Heliatek cell has three layers of organic molecules, each specializing in converting red, green, or near-infrared light, which is why it yields such high efficiency. It can be put together using roll-to-roll technology (creating electronic devices on a roll of flexible plastic or metal foil) and high volume vacuum deposition (depositing layers of material atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule on a solid surface), leading to low costs.
The reasons that Heliatek is interested in organic solar cells, versus silicon solar cells which are much more efficient, is because they are far cheaper, and they are transparent. The low cost makes the product easier for consumers to buy, and the transparency allows for the solar cells to be used on buildings and cars. Even executives at Mercedes-Benz have spoken about solar powered cars. For example, in 2014 they debuted their Mercedes Vision G-Code in China, a compact crossover that has a solar paintjob. Research similar to this has opened a realm of possibilities for solar-powered vehicles and has inspired several companies to work on their own solar models, leading to a future likely filled with more clean energy vehicles on the road.
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“Heliatek | Organic Based Photovoltaics – Heliatek Sets New Organic Photovoltaic World Record Efficiency of 13.2%.” Heliatek. Heliatek, 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.