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Organic photovoltaics (OPVs) reached a new milestone this week whenKonarka announced that it achieved a world-record 8.3 percent efficiency rating from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. OPVs are a novelform of photovoltaics (PVs) that are finding a home in portable,flexible applications and also building-integrated applications.

The gains in efficiency are more impressive considering that in May2009, the world-record for OPV was 6.4 percent efficient, which was also held by Konarka at the time. But OPV still remains far less efficientthan other forms of PV—like silicon, which commonly reaches averageefficiencies of 14 percent and has been produced at efficiency levelshigher than 20 percent.

On the other hand, OPV is flexible, uses less expensive materials tomanufacture and can be easily incorporated into fabrics andbuilding-integrated PVs.

“In OPV, the manufacturing process is so much cheaper and greener,and they’re using cleaner materials,” said Tracy Wemett, a spokespersonfor Konarka.

The technology continues to face obstacles, however.

For instance, in addition to lower efficiencies, the materials also have a shorter lifespan.

“The goal has always been 10 percent efficiency and a 10-year lifetime,” said Wemett.

For comparison, silicon cells are expected to last at least 25 years. She said the company is close to the first goal, but the material inwhich the OPVs are encased—a plastic—limits their viable life to about 5 years at this point.

“If you put a different barrier between it, it should last longer,” she said.

At this point, Konarka is focused on getting the technology into more hands, Wemett said.

Konarka is primarily an OPV manufacturer that’s selling the productto other companies for their uses and makes its OPV Power Plastic tocustomers’ specifications, which include multiple colors. In fact,Konarka has developed camouflaged-patterned materials for use by themilitary, Wemett said.

Since the materials Konarka uses can also be transparent orsemi-transparent, they’re ideal for building-integrated PV applicationslike windows or curtain walls.

Perhaps the most readily available application of Konarka’s PowerPlastics is now found in travel ware, like laptop bags and even personal coolers. Applications that take advantage of the material’s lightweight while providing power for laptops or other portable electricdevices.

Image courtesy of NREL.

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