UK’s John Anthony Talks Organic Solar Cells and Transistors

UK’s John Anthony Talks Organic Solar Cells and Transistors


VO: University of Kentucky chemistry professor
John Anthony is making low-cost solar cells and transistors out of carbon, instead of
silicon. Carbon is a lot more versatile than silicone.
Silicone is basically a mineral, it’s a rock. Which means you … are very limited
in, how you can shape it. In order to get the silicone they use in a solar cell, you
have to take sand and heat it with coal at thousands of degrees. Carbon-based materials
can be processed, they can be molded and shaped at much lower temperatures. Right now, we’re working on what’s called
a bulk hetero-junction organic photovoltaic. That’s a lot of big words strung together…
to describe a process that is ridiculously simple. You take a transparent conductor and
you basically slather these organics on from a solution like an ink and then the materials
just spontaneously self-assemble into a working solar cell. One of the grants we just got funding for,
we’re trying to get a little more sophisticated in using inkjet printing techniques to make
organic solar cells. You’d put a transparent conductor sheet of plastic which are easy
to make into an ink jet printer and use some of our proprietary inks and “zzzzz” and
out the other end pops a solar cell. What can we do on a big scale? The dream I
have is there are a lot of printing plants that are used to printing high-resolution,
full-color images that are idle, so if we can just design inks to make solar cells that
way, think of the speed at which you could just start printing off solar cells. Lightweight,
flexible, you can put them on anything. You know you can coat the windows of skyscrapers
with solar cells and start generating some the energy that’s used to cool down the
skyscraper. So there’s a lot of potential if we just get the scale up. VO: Outrider Technologies, a company formed
in 2005 based on Anthony’s research, is making organic transistors for flexible, flat
panel displays. We’ve been able to put transistors, basically,
integrated circuits on saran wrap, so plastic that’s thinner than this…we can wrinkle
it up and crumple it and it still works. We actually just submitted this for publication
to one of the nature journals. So we know we can do the basic circuitry and that it’s
stable, it doesn’t die when you crumple it up and fold it up and stuff it in your
pocket, right. Then next question is can we get the performance out of it? And that is
where a good-sized effort of my research group is now turning its attention. VO: With grants from the Navy, NSF and industrial
sponsors, John Anthony’s research team recently moved into the new laboratory building at
the UK Center for Applied Energy Research. Now that I’m out here, I’ve basically
doubled the number of current, active research grants. Just because now I have the space
to support people. What we have to do as chemists is, we have
to figure out what needs to be made, we have to then figure out how to make it, and then
we have to do the initial screening to see if it’s going to have the right properties. My graduate students in my group, right, they
need to know an awful lot of physics, they need to know a lot of electrical engineering,
they need to know a lot of materials engineering, in order just to figure out what molecule
needs to be made and then all of their chemical knowledge can come into play. There are few things better in the world than
having a different point of view. I really like having ideas thrown at me from every
single direction and using those ideas to feed into new projects. I can’t tell you how many new projects and
how many grant dollars have been brought up because I’ve gone to a seminar that’s
completely out of my area. And hearing somebody complain, saying, you know we could really
advance this field if only we could do this. I know how to do that. And a new collaboration
is born.

3 COMMENTS

    Can this be used to make folding hybrotic animats? If you can print a flexible microchip on a thin material and then print neuron cells onto the scaffold you could artificially fold it into a 3 dimensional shape mimicking a natural brain. Even without the neurons you could pack more electronic systems into less space if you don't need to rely on a rigid substrate ^_^

    Thanks for your comment. Here is what Dr. Anthony had to say: "Printed electronics are heavily used in the bioelectronics area, to develop sensors and as scaffolds for neuron growth. The key issue is that it is much easier to interface organic semiconductors with biological systems than it is to integrate inorganic ones."

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