A company called Konarka has a product called Power Plastic that is a flexible solar panel using Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells. Although the efficiency of OPV panels is about half of a rigid, silicon based panel, it’s a lot cheaper to make. As of 2010, Konarka’s OPV panels have achieved an efficiency of 8.3 which was verified by the National Energy Renewable Laboratory (NREL). Silicon based panels are around 16% efficient. Dr. Alan Heeger, a world leader in conductive polymer research, created the photo-reactive polymer material.
A May, 2008 article in Chemical Engineering magazine stated that Konarka was able to print organic solar cells using a Dimatix Materials Printer which is like an inkjet printer. Although the Konarka website does not mention this technology, they do state that their solar cells are printed/coated in an inexpensive manner using roll to roll manufacturing onto a flexible substrate which becomes their product called Power Plastic. This process can be done at low temperatures thereby saving energy compared to other solar cell manufacturing processes. This product can then be manufactured by others into various end-user products such as solar tents, bus-stop canopies or large umbrellas all having the ability to produce power while serving their primary purpose.
Some of the high points of Power Plastic are as follows:
Konarka currently maufactures Power Plastic in a former Polaroid film plant where they were able to use much of the machinery that was used for making camera film. Their manufacturing target is to make 1 gigawatt of panels in a year. A trip to their website may inspire you to come up with a new application for Power Plastic. www.Konarka.com