KAIST unveils high-efficiency, stretchable organic solar cells
by Riko Seibo
Daejeon, South Korea (SPX) Jan 10, 2024
In a significant advancement for wearable technology, a research team from KAIST’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) has announced the development of the world’s highest-performing stretchable organic solar cell. Led by Professor Bumjoon Kim, the team has made a notable breakthrough by combining high electrical performance with unprecedented mechanical elasticity in solar cells.
This innovation comes at a time when the demand for wearable electronic devices is surging, creating a pressing need for energy sources that can adapt to flexible and dynamic uses. Traditional solar cells, while efficient, have struggled to meet this need due to their rigidity. The team at KAIST, however, has tackled this challenge head-on.
The core of their achievement lies in a novel conductive polymer material. By chemically bonding a highly stretchable polymer with an electrically conductive polymer known for its excellent electrical properties, the researchers have created a new material that excels in both conductivity and flexibility. This material has demonstrated a photovoltaic conversion efficiency of 19% in organic solar cells, a significant figure given the typically lower efficiency of organic versus silicon-based cells.
Moreover, these solar cells exhibit a remarkable tenfold increase in stretchability compared to existing devices. The cells can be stretched up to 40% during operation, a feature that is critical for integration into wearable devices where flexibility and durability under strain are essential.
“The development of the world’s best performing stretchable organic solar cell is a major milestone,” said Professor Kim. “But perhaps more importantly, we have developed a new polymer that can serve as a foundational material for a variety of electronic devices that require flexibility and elasticity.”
This research, a collaborative effort involving KAIST researchers Jin-Woo Lee and Heung-Goo Lee as first co-authors, along with teams led by Professor Taek-Soo Kim from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Professor Sheng Li from the Department of CBE, was published in the journal Joule on December 1. The paper, titled “Rigid and Soft Block-Copolymerized Conjugated Polymers Enable High-Performance Intrinsically-Stretchable Organic Solar Cells,” details the process and potential applications of this groundbreaking technology.
Organic solar cells are poised to revolutionize the field of wearable electronics. Their lightweight and flexible nature makes them uniquely suited for this application, but until now, their lower efficiency and limited stretchability have been significant hurdles. The work done by Professor Bumjoon Kim and his team at KAIST represents a leap forward in overcoming these challenges, opening up new possibilities for the integration of solar energy into everyday wearable technology.
As the market for wearable devices continues to expand, the demand for innovative and adaptable energy solutions will only grow. The breakthrough at KAIST not only addresses this demand but also sets a new standard for the capabilities of organic solar cells. The implications of this development are vast, with potential applications ranging from consumer electronics to medical devices, all requiring flexible, durable, and efficient energy sources.
In a world increasingly reliant on portable and wearable technology, the advancement of stretchable solar cells marks a key step in the evolution of energy solutions. With this new technology, devices of the future may no longer be limited by the rigidity of traditional power sources, paving the way for more versatile and user-friendly electronics.