Konarka touts gains on niche-y flexible solar cells

Solar cells made with plastic are cheaper to manufacture, but the technology is still seeking out niche applications, such as gadget-charging bags and solar windows.

Konarka's flexible solar cells are well suited for charging portable electronics or building-integrated photovoltaics
Konarka's flexible solar cells are well suited for charging portable electronics or building-integrated photovoltaics Martin LaMonica/CNET

Konarka said today that it has achieved a record in organic solar cell efficiency but its products are still seeking a viable commercial niche.

The Lowell, Mass.-based company said the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has certified that Konarka's plastic solar cells have achieved an efficiency of 8.3 percent, the highest that NREL has recorded for organic photovoltaic cells.

Founded in 2001, Konarka has a facility to make flexible solar cells using plastic in a roll-to-roll manufacturing process. It's one of a handful of companies pursuing organic photovoltaics and other so-called third-generation solar cell technologies, which also include dye-sensitized cells.

Thin-film organic photovoltaic cells are cheaper than other solar cell technologies because of the material that's used. But the efficiency has limited their potential applications to areas such as embedded solar cells in buildings or portable solar chargers for electronic gadgets.

Konarka, which has raised over $150 million, has announced commercial agreements with a number of companies, such as Konica Minolta, but commercial use of its technology is still in the early stages. Last year, Neuberg Energy of Germany started selling bags with a sheet of embedded solar plastic that can charge small electronic gadgets, such as phones and music players.

 

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