An organic solar cell (OSC) or plastic solar cell is a type of photovoltaic that uses organic electronics, a branch of electronics that deals with conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules, for light absorption and charge transport to produce electricity from sunlight by the photovoltaic effect. Most organic photovoltaic cells are polymer solar cells.
Up until recently, plastics have played a secondary role in solar panel production. For example, solar panel plastic sheets or films can be used to help reduce internal humidity or protect the glass and silicon panels underneath from the environment.
Rather than silicon and glass elements, this makes solar panels, and solar-based energy, even more affordable, durable and accessible than ever before. Compared to silicon-based devices, polymer solar cells are lightweight which is important for small autonomous sensors, potentially disposable and inexpensive to fabricate. Flexible, customizable on the molecular level and potentially have less adverse environmental impact.
Which Plastics are Used in Plastic Solar Panels?
In terms of a photovoltaic plastic solar panel, a unique blend of organic polymers and other small molecules has been designed to absorb light and transport it through the cell in order to produce electricity. These blends are still in the experimental phase, so they aren’t widely used in standard solar energy arrays yet. But, in the not-so-distant future, they may replace the solar panel glass or plastic sheeting we’re familiar with.
The most common kinds of plastics used for solar panels:
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): A sturdy plastic used for solar panel braces and attachments.
- Acrylic/Plexiglass: Used for protective and insulating films to make panels more durable and reduce internal humidity.
- Polycarbonate: Used as glazing to protect glass and other fragile elements from impact. Can also be used for sturdy components like rotational bushings and bearings.
- Polypropylene: Often used as a film to protect glass panels or as a base material for plastic solar cells.