PCBM might seriously transform the world of photovoltaics – here is how

While there are multiple uses for this fullerene derivative, PCBM seems to shine the most in the field of photovoltaics and organic electronics. What makes it a revolutionary solution and what does it hold for the future? This article will shed some light on this question.

PCBM – its origins and discovery

PCBM, or Phenyl C61 butyric acid methyl ester, is a derivative of the so-called C60 buckminsterfullerene, which itself is a relatively recent discovery, dating to the 1980s. The “buckyball” is an interesting material with many remarkable properties as it is, but these can be significantly improved by introducing its derivatives. During the experimenting with C60, it has been discovered that a photo induced electronic transfer from a semiconducting polymer to a “buckyball” molecule is possible, the path was open to search for a derivative that would be able to fulfil this purpose even better. That derivative would be none other than PCBM.


The solubility of this substance is another one of its strong points

Further reason why PCBM became a prime solution to be considered for use in photovoltaics is its good solubility in organic solvents compared to the standard C60. This makes it prime material to be used in organic semiconductors. Besides, the chemical structure of PCBM allows for a further insertion of more functional groups that could further boost its photovoltaic, absorptive and other properties. PCBM can therefore act as a highly effective acceptor, especially in conjunction with polymers such as P3HT.

The way to a much cheaper synthesis of light

PCBM is an organic material, whose photovoltaic properties make it suitable to find its use in the sphere of renewable energy, most notably in solar cells. It has a significant edge over the more traditional, silicon-based solar cells for the following reasons:

  •   Cheap production. While silicon is depletable and more difficult to process and manufacture, PCBM is far more readily available and easier to process at a much lower cost.
  •   Efficiency. When organic solar cells were in their “infancy”, no one would guess that they would one day match and even surpass the silicon-based ones as far as efficiency goes. But it seems to be precisely what is going to happen in the upcoming years, as new and new breakthroughs are made which increase the organic solar cells’ capacities to harness solar energy.
  •   Flexibility and light weight. Solar cells made out of PCBM can be folded and easily transported. They could therefore be easily mounted on the spaces which would not allow the installation of the traditional solar panels. They could also see mass use as portable, personal power sources – phone chargers, outdoor equipment and more. Solar cells might even be curved around the surface of a car.

Its supposed lack of absorptive possibilities can be made up for

Quite a common criticism of this material points out the fact that it has trouble absorbing the full solar spectrum, which might seem as a big disadvantage at first. The wavelengths of the collar radiation which do not get absorbed are simply turned into useless heat. It is true that fullerene and its derivatives are not as effective in solar radiation absorption, but there is still a way around this – for example by modifying methyl ester with chromophores or by changing the patterning of other solar cell layers, which could significantly improve the overall cell efficiency. You can learn more about the research conducted into organic solar cell efficiency here.

Though the PCBM use in solar cell technology is still in its beginning stages, it is clear that it holds a great promise into the future. We hope you’ve learned something new about PCBM in this article and that your interest is sparked to learn more on your own!

Could you think of some uses in which organic solar cells could be put to work? Do you agree that they will one day overtake the traditional silicone ones? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section!

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