QNRF-Project Develops Unique Technology for NextGen Solar Systems
The renewable and sustainable energy industry is growing globally and solar energy production has long been one of the most popular renewable energy sources. However, a major challenge that solar energy production presents is the reduction in efficiency over time of the photovoltaic (PV) materials which makes it an expensive energy option. Therefore, researchers and scientists are constantly navigating the challenge to improve the corresponding cost/efficiency ratio of solar energy so it can compete with fossil fuel energy production.
Currently, solar energy production is primarily based on crystalline silicon as the active semiconducting material, which is a very expensive option and is limited in its applications. Therefore, the feasibility of its adoption for renewable energy production is severely impacted. Responding to this, researchers from Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) have developed a highly innovative technology that is more efficient and less expensive. Led by Dr. Mohammed Al-Hashimi (LPI), FRSC, Research Associate Professor at TAMUQ, and Dr. Lei Fang (PI) from Texas A&M University - College Station, the project titled, “Synthesis and molecular engineering of novel conjugated polymers with zero torsional defect for organic solar cell,” was made possible through the seventh cycle of QNRF’s National Priorities Research Program (Project # NPRP07-285-1-045).
The team started their project by looking into organic polymer solar cells (PSCs), which are relatively more practical than crystal silicone due to their low cost, light weight, shorter energy payback time, and stretchable large-area photovoltaic panels. Due to these factors, organic PSCs have emerged as a very popular alternative in the development of next-generation solar systems. However, these PSCs are made up of single-strand polymers that have some limitations and defects which decrease their overall stability and performance in photovoltaic devices. Addressing these defects, the researchers navigated their way through complex processes and experiments to develop a unique and reversible process to produce conjugated ladder polymers. Due to the reversibility of the process, the developed polymers have minimal defects and more processability properties.
These ladder polymers have well-defined rigid structures and perform well in materials applications. Unlike single-strand polymers, they have a backbone made of two or more independent strands, which contributes to their higher thermal and chemical stability and improve their mechanical and electrical performance. Moreover, technologically, multi-strand ladder polymers have greater stability, increased solubility and efficiency, and can be used across different sectors including the petrochemical, fine chemical, and electronic industries.
Owing to its versatility and wide range of applications, this technology has generated considerable commercial interest as it distinguishes itself from existing technologies in the market due to its lower cost and higher performance. The project has extensive applications in the wearable technology industry, and in the near future will open up markets in materials supply, printing technology, and process monitoring, as well as enable the overall OPV market.
The success of this project can be assessed from the reception it has received from the international scientific community as this research has been presented in more than 20 conferences and four top journal papers which featured the project on their cover pages. Moreover, the team has been successful in patenting ideas related to the research project through Qatar Foundation’s Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer.
The outcomes of this project hold great potential in helping Qatar achieve its aim of generating 20% of its electricity from solar power by 2030. Moreover, this technology highlights the focus Qatar is placing on helping with developing technologies that can be implemented in Qatar and beyond to help meet the global energy demand in more economical, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly ways.